It was in identical terms that the 1980s Tory Government sold so-called pension reforms to an unsuspecting public. That resulted in one of the greatest pension scandals of

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all time, the mis-selling of personal pensions. Shamelessly misleading advertising implied that if people left existing pension schemes and put their savings in the hands of the financial services experts, they could miraculously put less in and get more out. People were encouraged by the then Government to gamble with their retirement savings without their employers having to contribute, and without even the safety net of pooling their own risk—and it all ended in tears. I heard what the Chancellor said about the assurances that he had given and about whom he had consulted, and I advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to consider what he said in great detail. We have asked the Government to publish in full the assessment of the costs and risks of their proposal, but so far they have refused to do so. I hope that they soon will.

I have noticed that there is an incentive for the Government in this proposal, over and above the well-being of pensioners. The Chancellor stands to gain a few billions of pounds in extra tax. So there is something in it for the Treasury—probably rather more than there is for pensioners, in the short term—and the most careful scrutiny of the details will be required.

Over the past few days—and, today, in the excellent speech with which he opened the debate—the shadow Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), has drawn attention to our proposals to raise the minimum wage and encourage the use of the living wage so that work can be made to pay; to tackle the abuses of wage and employment law that enable employers to use immigrant labour to undercut the wages and conditions of others; to set up a British investment bank and regional banks to support small businesses, which—as was pointed out earlier—our existing banks are still failing to do; and to address the crises in housing and health care. We would have seen all those proposals in a Labour Queen’s Speech. There is much along those lines that the House and the Government should and could be doing, but clearly it will not be done under this Administration.

1.46 pm

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I am sure that the House is very grateful to the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) for reminding us all of the magnitude of the fantastic challenge that the Government faced when they came to office in 2010. It is just a shame that neither she nor the shadow Chancellor seized the opportunity to apologise to the House and the nation for the catastrophic destruction of the public finances and the running up of a massive deficit.

Margaret Beckett: I have heard that argument in the House so many times. Indeed, the Chancellor used it today. However, there is a bit that I have missed: the bit where the right hon. Gentleman explained how the last Government also brought about the crashes in the United States and Japan, and in Spain and Italy and throughout the European Union. I am looking forward to hearing him give that explanation.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We need short interventions, and, in fairness, Members should not bait others who have just spoken. I do not think that that helps to ensure that everyone else will have a chance to speak.

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Sir Gerald Howarth: I am delighted to assist the right hon. Lady, who I know is very reasonable. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has just identified one of the causes of the problem that we faced, namely the Labour Government’s decision to remove responsibility for the supervision of the banks from the Bank of England. I know that that is the case, because I was an international banker myself. The Tory party warned the Labour Government that if they removed that responsibility from the Bank, there would be problems. [Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I want to hear Sir Gerald, but I cannot hear him when Members are shouting him down.

Sir Gerald Howarth: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Let me be the first Government Member to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on sticking to his guns, and on the long-term economic programme, which has unquestionably benefited the United Kingdom—not least my constituents in Aldershot, where unemployment has now fallen to 1.8%. We have done fantastically well, and, in my view, that was undoubtedly a factor in the Newark by-election success, on which I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends. There is no doubt that the sheer weight of Conservative effort helped, as, indeed, did the contribution made by Patrick Mercer, who was very popular in the constituency, and had done good work over 13 years.

However, as the shadow Chancellor pointed out, we should not be lulled into a false sense of security. One of the key reasons for UKIP’s success is that it has homed in on the public’s rising concern about immigration. That concern is not new; it has existed since the 1960s. What is new is that while there was an understandable reluctance to vote for the British National party, no such inihibitions apply to UKIP.

For 50 years, those of us who have expressed concern about the impact of mass immigration on our country have been reviled and denounced as racist. All argument was effectively closed down, as perfectly decent people expressing perfectly reasonable fears were intimidated into remaining publicly silent.

Things have now changed, however. People feel that at last they can break free from the shackles of political correctness in which they have been chained. It is no longer racist to want to preserve our British way of life, our religion and our culture; it is not racist to express pride in our nation’s history and, indeed, in our imperial past.

It is not just the Conservative party that has been affected by the public’s concerns, as the shadow Chancellor’s comments again made clear. Labour has seen white working-class support desert to UKIP. Furthermore, many of those who have arrived from abroad and have integrated in our society are also concerned about the continuing flows of migration.

The main parties have to recognise the effect that this unprecedented tidal wave of migration has had on the UK, including our economy. Of course migration has not been without its benefits, some of which are only too evident on the Benches around us here, and companies such as Tata have made, and continue to make, a very valuable contribution. However, this week’s Ofsted report on Birmingham schools has revealed the extent to which

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people newly arrived here not only reject our values and customs, but want to impose their own on the rest of us. I have a very clear message for them: this is a Christian country, a tolerant country, we speak English, we shake hands with ladies, and open facial recognition is a key part of our culture. If they find that offensive, they should please feel free to leave and move to a country that is more to their liking—for there are plenty of repressive regimes around the world that clearly are more to the liking of people like that. As the T-shirt worn by a young man whom I saw on the underground earlier this week said: “Speak in English; Think in English; Dream in English”. I thought that was rather good advice to a lot of people in our country.

What we all need to understand is that it is numbers that are the issue. As that excellent organisation MigrationWatch has pointed out, between 1951 and 1991 the population born overseas grew by less than 2 million, yet after the election of the Labour Government in 1997 the scale of immigration increased to a level without historical precedent. Between 1991 and 2011, the foreign-born population more than doubled, increasing by 4 million. Much of this was deliberately encouraged by the Blair Government, partly, as we were helpfully told by a Labour speechwriter, Mr Andrew Neather, to rub the noses of the right in diversity.

All this has had an impact on our country. The Prime Minister has been at the forefront of the campaign to denounce the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in the UK, but there are practical challenges, too. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor mentioned the housing issue. We need to build a new home every seven minutes just to accommodate new migrants to this country. England is already the most crowded country in Europe, yet unless tougher action is taken the population will grow by 7 million in the next 15 years, 5 million of which will be attributable to immigration, which is the equivalent of the towns and cities of Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow and Manchester.

Mr Bellingham: Does my hon. Friend agree that this Government have made very significant progress in reducing migration to the UK from outside the EU? Indeed, there have been a number of big successes in that regard. However, does he also agree that the time has now come for the Governments of all countries in the EU to look again at the absolute free movement of people for jobs across the EU? The only way we can solve this problem and bring migration into some form of balance is by looking at migration from the EU as well.

Sir Gerald Howarth: My hon. Friend, with whom I have the privilege of sharing adjoining offices in Portcullis house, is entirely right. This Government have set about trying to tackle migration, not least by dealing with the legacy left by the previous Government, and we have tackled non-EU migration. My hon. Friend is right to alert the House to the extent to which our membership of the EU is inhibiting our ability to do something about that other aspect of migration, however, and I have a proposal, which I will make in winding up my contribution.

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Labour’s failure to apologise for inflicting this policy on the nation, together with its failure to apologise for the destruction of the public finances, which I mentioned earlier, means it is wholly unfit to return to office. That brings me to the topic of the next Queen’s Speech. I hope with all my heart that that will be prepared by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) as leader of the Conservative party, elected with a clear working majority in this place. This country absolutely needs that. We cannot afford to go back to the policies of tax and spend, and running up yet more debt, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has reminded us again today. We have to keep reminding the British people that that is what Labour did in office and it has not yet recanted. We therefore must do our duty to the British people, which is to be returned with a clear working majority.

To get to that happy position, however, we need to convince the public that we will build on the existing measures we have put in place to contain inward migration, particularly from less affluent EU countries. We must act now. The Government should accept the unanimous recommendation of the European Scrutiny Committee to disapply the European Communities Act 1972 in relation to specific EU legislation, not least so that this Parliament can once again become sovereign and take swift action to recover control of our borders and reduce the level of burdensome regulation being imposed on us externally. If the European Court of Justice does not like that, then tough; the British people certainly will.

1.55 pm

Mrs Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): It is a privilege to speak in this debate. This is the last opportunity I will have to speak in a Queen’s Speech debate as a Member of this House. I have to say, however, that the Queen’s Speech we heard last week was not nearly as exciting as the first Queen’s Speech I heard in this House in 1997.

I want to pick up on a few of the comments that have been bandied around by those on the Government Benches, not least the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth), whom I have the pleasure, of course, of following. “Tax and spend” is one comment they throw about, but they do not say what that actually means. We can look around our country and our individual constituencies and see what the spend was all about. It was about replacing schools that had not been looked after for tens of years. Many of our schools were Victorian-built, and many of our hospitals had been built at the end of the 19th century, never mind the 20th century.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs McGuire: Very briefly, as I want to take Mr Speaker’s advice.

Robert Flello: I agree with everything my right hon. Friend has said, but she will also remember, as I do, Conservative Members standing up time and again and calling for schools and hospitals in their constituencies; and how they have the shameless gall to say otherwise is beyond me.

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Mrs McGuire: I remember it well, and there is now the mirror image of that: they are in government now, and they are calling for even more expenditure in their individual constituencies. That certainly puts a whole new slant on “Think nationally—or globally—and act locally.” It is almost as though there is no connect between the two.

I first want to welcome two elements of the Queen’s Speech, however. One is the commitment to continue to implement new powers for the Scottish Parliament, which I hope will be done within the context of a United Kingdom—the “No” badge I am wearing today has absolutely nothing to do with me not wanting anybody here to speak to me.

I also welcome the increased penalties for those not paying the national minimum wage, but I say to the Government that it is one thing to increase penalties, but it is another thing actually to enforce the law. There is absolutely no point in increasing the penalties if there is not going to be the enforcement welly behind the national minimum wage to tackle employers who are behaving illegally.

I want to concentrate on a couple of areas. One is zero-hours contracts, which the Chancellor blithely dismissed. Yes, zero-hours contracts have, of course, been with us for a long time, and, yes, they can in some circumstances be a useful resource in managing a work force, but the difference between what happened in the past and what is happening now is that zero-hours contracts have effectively become part of the mainstream in how our employment market is operating.

Let us consider a couple of companies that have a presence in most of our areas. Sports Direct has 23,000 workers, and 20,000 of them are on zero-hours contracts. That is 86% of its work force. That is not about Sports Direct having flexibility. Some 80% of Wetherspoon staff are on zero-hours contracts, too. That is not just about managing the bulges in customer numbers at certain times of the day or at the weekend, but is a policy decision by those companies to use zero-hours contracts as an employment tool. What is even worse is that having 1 million or so workers on zero-hours contracts helps to disguise the unemployment figures—[Interruption.] Is the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) talking to himself or does he want to intervene on me?

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): The right hon. Lady condemns companies that employ people on zero-hours contracts, but will she condemn the more than 60 Labour MPs who also do so?

Mrs McGuire: The hon. Gentleman was obviously so busy talking to himself that he did not hear what I was saying, which was that there are instances in which zero-hours contracts might well be suitable. However, a zero-hours contract approach is now being embedded in our mainstream way of employing people. That stokes up people’s uncertainty about their income, creates instability in their lives and leaves them unable to get finance, even for rented accommodation. Those who think that these contracts provide numerous hours’ work each week should note that, according to the Office for National Statistics, an individual who worked for just one hour within its survey period was considered to be employed. The attractive mirror image to this situation for the Government is that they can describe

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those people as having come off the unemployment register, creating a false figure for the unemployment in our constituencies. The previous Tory Government used to shunt people on to incapacity benefit. The present Government are using zero-hours contracts in much the same way.

The second issue that I want to address is how people can afford housing in the present environment. According to the Scottish Parliament information unit, the average pay in Scotland is £26,472. The average price for a semi-detached house in my constituency is £140,000. I know that Members who represent constituencies in the south of England might think that that is not a high price, but we must ask ourselves how on earth people are going to get a mortgage or other finance for such a house on a salary of around £26,000 a year. It just does not compute. In my area, we have strong tourist accommodation and food industries, in which the average wages have actually dropped. They now average £10,558 a year.

Taking all those factors together, we find a situation in which many people in this country do not feel that they are benefiting from the rosy picture painted by the Chancellor earlier. We do not have to move far from this Chamber to find evidence of that. I wonder how many of us think about how our low-paid workers in the House of Commons dining rooms or in the Tea Room are even managing to get into work. Some of them are on zero-hours contracts. We need to look at the long-term implications for those people.

This Queen’s Speech is, I hope, the last under this Government. I also hope that it predates a new Queen’s Speech after the general election under a Labour Government led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). I can find no better description of the Conservatives than that used by Disraeli. He said of Conservatism that it

“offers no redress for the present, and makes no preparation for the future.”

This Queen’s Speech fulfils both those criteria.

2.4 pm

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I welcome the Queen’s Speech. In particular, I welcome the proposals giving the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs powers to introduce regulations to hold direct elections in national parks in England. Why do I think this is important? I speak from some experience as I was the chairman of the Brecon Beacons national park. The Bill refers to England, but the governance of national parks in England is very similar to that in Wales. At the moment, all members of national park authorities are appointed, not elected. This results in a democratic deficit. Members appointed by the Secretary of State represent the national interest—I can understand that—but members appointed by local authorities, often on a political basis, sometimes do not even represent wards in the national parks. Elections for local authority councillors do not often feature national park issues.

The national parks that were set up in Scotland some time after those in England and Wales do have direct elections for a proportion of the members of national park authorities. The elections have been well contested, with good turnouts, and have proved popular; but more importantly, they give people a chance to debate national park matters during a democratic process.

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I believe that this proposal will strengthen the case for national parks and their purposes. The national park establishment believes that it will bring forward anti-national park candidates. It might do that, but I believe that most people who live in national parks support the principle, but wish to express a view on how their services should be delivered. This Bill will be good for national parks and for the people who live in them.

I also welcome the announcement in the Queen’s Speech that, from 2016, all new homes will be required to meet a zero-carbon standard. However, that will not deal with the existing housing stock. In constituencies such as mine, rural fuel poverty is a serious issue that can have terrible health impacts. I had hoped that new proposals would have been included to help people who are struggling with fuel bills and fuel poverty by improving our current housing stock.

The energy bill revolution has repeatedly shown that investment in a major home energy efficiency programme would deliver better economic outcomes than almost all other forms of investment. Improving homes through insulation would help to bring down people’s energy costs. It would help to keep their homes warmer and have major health and environmental benefits. Improving the quality and efficiency of our homes must be one of our top priorities if we are to tackle the growing issue of fuel poverty. We must recognise the economic, social and environmental benefits of improving our homes and establish the idea that creating homes capable of keeping people warm and healthy is the most vital infrastructure investment we can make. I trust that such a provision will appear in the infrastructure Bill.

On 28 November 2012, I congratulated the Government on introducing regulations to protect wild animals in travelling circuses and asked the Prime Minister whether he would commit to introducing a ban in this Parliament. He responded by saying:

“It is our intention to do just that. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the fact that we have changed the regulations in advance of legislation, so that the clearly expressed will of this House can be met.”—[Official Report, 28 November 2012; Vol. 554, c. 219.]

Given that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the British Veterinary Association, the Captive Animals Protection Society and Animal Defenders International all support a complete ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, it is surely time finally to pass legislation on this issue. Twenty-seven other countries have introduced some form of prohibition on the use of wild animals in circuses, including half of the EU countries. Given the widespread support for a ban, I was concerned that there was no mention of it in the Queen’s Speech. I hope that other Members will support me in asking the Government to introduce this uncontroversial, and long overdue, legislation for a complete ban.

In 2012, the Independent Panel on Forestry published its final report to the Government on the future of England’s forests and woodlands. It called for our forests and woodlands to be revalued to take into account all the services they provide. Forests are particularly important for the local economy in rural areas. The panel’s research showed that our forests are the

“single largest provider of outdoor leisure and recreation”,

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the single largest timber producer, and a vital habitat for wildlife. The report estimated that our forests

“are producing annual returns on investment estimated at £400 million”.

It suggested that the public forest estate should be defined in law as land held in trust for the nation. The Government’s response supported the suggestions, but legislation has yet to materialise. I am sure that other hon. Members would agree that action is now needed to ensure that our forests are protected for generations to come.

2.10 pm

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): We heard a vigorous defence of the Queen’s Speech from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so it is surprising that so many Conservative Members have voted with their feet and emptied their side of the Chamber, obviously lacking the confidence to speak up in favour of their own Chancellor.

A central part of the Government’s defence of their economic policies is the challenge they make to the competence of and decisions taken by Labour Governments between 1997 and 2010. I was privileged to be a senior member of the Labour Government throughout the term and I am proud of their achievements. As John Major once shrewdly observed, the only people who never make mistakes are those who never make decisions. No more than any Government, did we get all our judgments right, but overall I believe we made the correct judgments, including on the economy. The criticism the current Government make of us is not just wide of the mark; it fails to take account of the contradictory policy positions they were adopting at the time.

The first charge the Chancellor has often made is that the Labour Government did not fix the roof when the sun was shining, but we did—we had to. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) mentioned, one of the scandals of the Thatcher and Major Governments was their palpable neglect of public services. There were hospitals and schools with leaking roofs and buckets everywhere. There were schools where the sun could literally be seen through the open roof. There is not a Conservative constituency in the country where the roofs of its schools and hospitals were not fixed by the last Labour Government, and no Conservative MP complained about that spending at the time.

That brings me to my second point. I have been through what Conservative shadow Chancellors were saying in response to the Budgets and spending reviews between 2000 and 2010. Yes, there are plenty of passages of criticism, in small print, about the levels of borrowing and taxation to which the Conservatives could, and do, point, but if we look at what they were saying about the spending plans that were leading to all those improvements in their constituencies, we find that a very different story emerges. In 2004, they published a medium-term economic strategy, setting out their plans for the years to 2011-12. The Institute for Fiscal Studies published its own commentary on that, saying that if the Conservatives were to win the forthcoming general election, spending would

“still be higher”

under the Conservative plans

“than it was in every year of Labour’s first term”.

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At the 2005 general election, the Conservatives’ main pitch, in the face of Labour criticism, was to reassure voters that no significant cuts would take place if they were elected. The Economist newspaper for 14 April 2005 published a major article under the heading “Much ado about nothing: The Conservatives’ spending plans are strikingly similar to Labour’s”. After the 2005 election, the reassurance that the Conservatives would not be cutting public spending continued, but in even more categorical terms. On 3 September 2007, the “ConservativeHome” website proclaimed:

“Tories will match Labour’s spending plans for the next three years”.

It highlighted an article in The Times of the same date, written by the then shadow Chancellor, which stated:

“I can confirm for the first time”—

he solemnly intoned—

“that a Conservative Government will adopt”

the Labour Government’s spending totals for the years 2008-09 to 2010-11.

Robert Flello: Does my right hon. Friend also recall that at the same time the Conservatives, to a person, were calling on the then Labour Government to weaken the oversight and weaken the regulation of the banks to allow them greater freedom?

Mr Straw: I absolutely confirm that. As we have accepted, we did not regulate the banks and other financial institutes sufficiently, but the Conservatives at the time were demanding, in this Chamber and outside it, not more regulation but less. Just in case readers did not get the point of the then shadow Chancellor’s article in The Times in September 2007, its headline was “Tories cutting services? That’s a pack of lies”. All the plans for the economy—those of the Conservatives, as much as those of Labour—were knocked badly off course by the global financial crisis. But for all the insinuations we now hear about how Labour ignored the warning signs, there is not a line—not a word—of such predictions in that article, nor anywhere else in what Conservatives were saying at the time.

The Chancellor talks today of Britain’s recovery, and I am delighted that output, after the longest recession in modern history, is now close to where it was six years ago. But although he will not do this, future economic historians will, I believe, judge that part of the reason for the recovery was the wise decisions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Let it also be remembered that, for all the Conservative efforts to rewrite history now, the average level of debt to GDP under Labour was below that of the preceding Conservative Governments and below international averages, not only for the 11 years before the recession took hold, but even when our last two years in power are included. We fixed the roofs, for both sun and storms. By contrast, the Conservatives then were calling simultaneously for lower taxation and lower borrowing but the same spending. How on earth did they think those sums would ever add up?

2.16 pm

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): The whole House has great respect for the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), who, as always, was careful to

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acknowledge that the previous Labour Government did make some mistakes. One of those has been all over the newspapers this morning. It was a decision that he was closely involved in and that I voted against: the decision to invade Iraq. That has proved to be one of the single most disastrous decisions ever made in foreign policy, and we have reduced that country to chaos. There are also lessons to be learned for the future, when next we think of involving ourselves in foreign countries with military ventures, whether in Ukraine or Syria.

The right hon. Gentleman was also generous in his description of the very difficult economic decisions that both Governments have grappled with. Of course he is right to say that the roof has to be fixed, but I am sure he would accept it when I say, as a former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, that there were productivity declines in areas such as the NHS and that extraordinary waste was involved in the rapid increases in expenditure, particularly on health and education. I am sure that both Governments have a lot to learn about that. I agree with him that we were probably wrong to agree to commit ourselves to accepting Labour’s spending plans, which were too high, and I have consistently argued that we should have addressed the deficit even quicker. It is a matter of regret that we are still spending more than ever before. That highlights the key challenge that both parties face: we have to keep addressing this deficit.

The current Government are winning the economic argument because there remains a lack of coherence in Labour’s spending plans. The whole country realises that there has been this monumental waste and the Government are addressing it. Perhaps we could have done more and we could have done it in a better way, but we are seeking to address it. This Labour Opposition, unlike the Labour Opposition before 1997, who accepted our spending plans before 1997, do not apparently have a coherent economic message to address that. We know that elections are won on the economy.

At the moment, we cannot deny that 2 million extra jobs have been created in the private sector, and I have to say, following an intervention from the Opposition Benches, that they have not all come from ex-members of the Bullingdon club. There are a lot of ordinary people who are getting these jobs. The Opposition have to address that problem, and we have to concentrate on the economy. It was significant and a bit of an innovation that, in the Gracious Speech, the Queen often mentioned the economy.

Mr Straw: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for his generosity towards me. Yes, of course I accept the 2 million figure that he mentioned, but does he acknowledge that a significant element of that 2 million, whether we like it or not, is composed of those migrants who have come in, about which he so much complains?

Sir Edward Leigh: Yes, of course I acknowledge that, but the point I want to make is that it is by concentrating on the economy during the last year of this Government that we will establish our credibility as a party of government. What worries me is that although there is so much in this Queen’s Speech that is excellent, especially the Bill dealing with pensions, we still sometimes forget the essential lesson that, as a Conservative party and a Conservative Government, where we do conservative

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things and address the economy in a conservative way, we win. Where we indulge in modernising gimmicks, we stumble and start to lose. Sometimes, we forget that. When we do conservative things, such as cutting the deficit, introducing a benefit cap and attempting—not enough—to deal with immigration, we win.

I am still worried about a couple of things in the Queen’s Speech. Is it really essential, when we are trying to address record spending and difficulties in the economy, to start talking about eradicating plastic bags in supermarkets? Is that a priority? Is it essential to start talking about the recall of MPs? It may at first sight be populist and popular, but it is very difficult to administer and probably will not solve any problems. For centuries, rogue MPs have consistently been kicked out of this place, so let us concentrate on the economy.

Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): By modernising, which the hon. Gentleman is very much against, does he mean reneging on the pledge to commit 0.7% of the gross national product to international aid, which was a manifesto promise of the three major parties in this country?

Sir Edward Leigh: That is a manifesto promise. My views on that are well known. I have two daughters working in international development in Africa, and I am proud of the efforts that we have made on international aid. I am totally committed to spending properly on international aid, but the Department for International Development, like every other Department, must spend what we can afford to spend and what we need to spend. Frankly, it is somewhat economically illiterate to insist by legislation or by other means that a Department sets a fixed percentage of GNP on aid, health or anything else. What happens if there is a recession and the economy contracts? We could end up spending less on aid. I have consistently made that argument, but I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.

My point is that we must concentrate on the economy. We still face enormous challenges. It is very difficult to get to grips with some of these challenges while we are in a coalition Government. A lot has been made of immigration in this debate. The truth is that we have made a mistake—the shadow Chancellor was generous enough in response to my intervention to accept that—in allowing such high immigration from eastern Europe. We all accept that, especially when economies diverge so greatly, as happens between Bulgaria and Romania and ours. It cannot be accepted in the long term that there should be an untrammelled right of immigration from poorly performing economies to our own. We just have to accept that. Therefore, the European Union rules on this must be reformed. I should like to see legislation put in place, but it will not be possible while we are in a coalition.

We also have to address the problem of the referendum. The British people deserve a referendum. Nobody under the age of 55 has been given a referendum. It is virtually impossible to get a referendum Bill through via the private Member’s procedure. The referendum Bill should be in the Queen’s Speech. It should be a Government Bill. I say to my hon. Friends the Liberal Democrats, who are sitting in front of me, that they cannot deny the right of the British people to have a choice.

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We need to address the concept of human rights. I am a great supporter of the Council of Europe and all its work; I am a member of it. The fact is that we cannot continue to have a proactive European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which is defeating the efforts of the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), and many others to deal with terrorism. There is much more that we need to do, which is why, for all that the coalition has achieved, we must get a clear result at the next general election. I hope from the bottom of my heart that it is a Conservative victory, so that we can address the very serious problems that still afflict our nation.

2.25 pm

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): The Queen’s Speech said that the stated objective of this legislative programme was to build a stronger economy. It said that it was to strengthen the economy. The Prime Minister used many of the same phrases in his speech last week, and spoke again, as the Chancellor did today, about this fabled long-term economic plan, which is a bit like a fabled unicorn: everybody knows what is meant, but no one has ever seen one. This long-term economic plan is much the same. Anyone with any common sense would assume that a long-term economic plan was predicated on substantial above-trend growth, yet the word “growth” did not appear once in the Queen’s Speech. Indeed, the Prime Minister only uttered it twice: once to chide the leader of the Labour party, not unreasonably, and another time in response to an intervention from his own side. Why the coyness? Where is the plan for real growth in the economy? When one looks at what is proposed in this legislative programme and at what has come before, particularly in the Budget, one can see that, at its heart, this is still an austerity Government. Yes, there are some helpful Bills, such as the national insurance contributions Bill and, potentially, the small business, enterprise and employment Bill, but there is nothing that anyone can point to and say, “That will make a real difference in delivering growth in the economy.” Perhaps the Government think that mining tunnels under people’s homes without permission to carry fracked gas qualifies as a growth measure.

Why are the Government so coy? Why are they giving us this convoluted formulation of words about long-term plans and a focus on a very narrow, although helpful, policy about national insurance? It is because they have failed and they know it. Nothing the Government said last week or this week changes the underlying direction of travel or the underlying shape of the economy as described to us in the Red Book only a few months ago.

Dr Thérèse Coffey: I am really interested in the hon. Gentleman’s contribution. The International Monetary Fund has confirmed that we are the fastest growing country in the G7. We have seen growth in all sectors of the economy in the past year. That must be welcomed. There is no unicorn. The only unicorn is the Scottish National party’s claims that Scotland will be better off out of the UK.

Stewart Hosie: That is because we would be. Although I welcome the limited growth that we have had, the actions taken by this Government since the last election stifled and strangled the recovery for some years, and that is the underlying problem with their plan.

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Let me take Scotland as an example. What the Government are proposing—this was before the Budget—is an 11% fiscal expenditure cut, a 27% cut in capital and a real terms 9.9% cut in the overall budget. This year’s Budget made that position worse, and that applies to spending Departments throughout the UK. Nothing in the Queen’s Speech changes that. Nor does it change the fact that the Chancellor told us that for 2013-14, the current account deficit would be down to 2.3% of GDP, borrowing would be reduced to £60 billion and the net debt would be at 70% of GDP. He was forced to tell us this year that the current account deficit was higher, borrowing was actually £95.5 billion and the net debt was 75% of GDP. The short-term metrics were wrong.

What about the big targets the Chancellor set for himself? They were that the debt would begin to fall as a share of GDP by this year, that the current account would be in balance next year and that the same year borrowing would be down to £20 billion. Presumably, that is what the Prime Minister meant by financial security. Of course, as we know—nothing in the Queen’s Speech changes this—the debt will not fall until 2016-17, two years late. The current account will not be back in the black until 2017-18, two years late. Public sector net borrowing in 2015-16 will not be £20 billion but £68 billion, three and a half times higher.

Although the limited recovery we have seen in the past year is of course to be welcomed—this directly answers the question asked by the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey)—not a single one of the Chancellor’s key targets has been met and his actions, as this is an austerity Government, stifled growth and delayed recovery year on year. No amount of convoluted formulations or warm words about long-term economic plans can change that.

What are the Government planning? It is there in black and white in the Red Book, on page 20 for anybody who wants to have a look. There will be a discretionary consolidation—that is cuts, and tax rises—next year to the tune of £126 billion. That is £2,000 per person in tax rises and cuts. That is what they are planning and that is what they have signed up to.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s comments on achieving growth. Presumably the skill base would need to be increased, so I take it that he agrees that cutting the college budget by £50 million would not be the way to achieve sustainable growth.

Stewart Hosie: When it comes to improving education, having a record number of Scots in full-time college places is excellent; having 25,000 to 26,000 Scots starting apprenticeships every year is first class; having 32,000 Scots start university this year is the way to proceed; and having all the school exam results improve in the way they have is probably a really good start. If the hon. Lady is saying that we can do more and can do better, of course we can—any Government can—but let us not talk down success, particularly when we are trying to hold this Government to account.

The point that I was making is that what we have is not a long-term economic plan. It is certainly not sustainable and it is certainly not a recipe for the growth the economy needs. It is just more Liberal and Tory austerity. It is the same plan that has seen this Government

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fail on their short-term and long-term targets so far and that will fail again. If it is about financial security, there is no evidence that it will succeed. If it is about growth, the Government are not even talking about that. If it is about delivering on the needs and ambitions of the people, it is woefully inadequate. As the discretionary consolidation laid out in black and white in the Red Book is predicated on a ratio of cuts to tax rises of 4:1, we do not have a long-term economic plan but a Tory Government who seem determined once again to try to balance the books on the backs of the poor. That is not a long-term economic plan; that is a disgrace.

2.33 pm

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): I am delighted to take part in this important debate on the Queen’s Speech and to congratulate the Chancellor on what he has done for our economy in the United Kingdom and particularly for the economy in Burton. I take part in the debate because I was urged to do so by one of my constituents at a thriving Burton business club lunch recently. He said to me, “Andrew, will you go into the Chamber and urge George to carry on with his long-term economic plan. Will you tell him not to listen to all that Balls?” I assume that he was talking about the shadow Chancellor.

My constituent was absolutely right, because the Government’s long-term economic plan is working for my constituents and my businesses in Burton and Uttoxeter. When I spoke to those entrepreneurs and small business men and women at Burton business club, they told me about the confidence they have in our economy. They have full order books, they are taking on new employees and they are optimistic about the future for their businesses and for our economy. If that is the case, we must continue with our long-term economic plan because in Burton it is working.

Since I became the Member of Parliament for Burton, we have seen unemployment reduce by 43%. Today’s Opposition amendment talks about opportunities for young people, but I talk about the 1,100 apprenticeships that young people in my constituency have started as a result of the policies of this Government. The Opposition talk about the need to help people in poverty, but I talk about the 900 families who now have the security of a job as a result of the policies of this Government. The plan is working in Burton.

Obviously, this debate is on the economy and I want to touch on a particular issue to do with that and with the Queen’s Speech, and that is the 900,000 people employed in the beer and pub trade. I come from the home of Britain’s brewing industry where 4,000 people are employed in beer and pubs, so this issue is hugely important for the families that rely on that important industry and not just for those who enjoy great British beer and our community pubs. I am very pleased to see in the Queen’s Speech legislation to protect our publicans up and down the country, as many Members on both sides of the House have voiced their concerns about how pubcos have treated some of our landlords. I was one of those who stood up and spoke about self-regulation, and I have to admit that I was wrong. The need for legislation has been demonstrated and I am pleased that the Government have come up with a proposal that will protect publicans and bring real transparency and openness into the system. Our pub industry will flourish as a result.

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I am also pleased that Ministers recognise the dangers in the proposal for a free-of-tie option. As the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills economic report by London Economics proved, that would have closed almost 2,000 pubs virtually overnight. I am pleased that a statutory code and a regulator will give real protection to landlords and publicans, but I have some concerns. It has always been the stated aim of this Government to cut red tape and regulation, with the one in, two out rule, and I hope that they will bear that in mind when they consider the proposed costs of the adjudicator. Self-regulation costs the industry about £100,000 a year, but it is estimated that the proposal for the adjudicator will cost £5 million a year, which will be funded by a levy on the industry. We must be careful that in our desire to protect those publicans we do not set up a quango that will end up costing the industry and that will be over-burdensome.

As the Member of Parliament for Burton, where Marston’s is based, I am also concerned that its franchisees will be caught up in this. I urge the Government to reconsider whether this legislation is aimed at capturing the franchise model. It is worth while thinking about that. I am also grateful that the Government chose not to accept the proposal for a mandatory guest beer. We all recognise the concerns of SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers, and lots of small breweries that that proposal would have hit the cask ales and Britain’s smaller breweries, and that we would have seen imported foreign lagers as the guest ale.

I commend the Government for this Bill and hope that we can see it speedily enacted without too much meddling or interference to damage it. As a result, publicans, the British beer industry and the British pub industry will thrive across the country.

2.39 pm

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): I found the reference in the Queen’s Speech to the Government continuing

“to build a stronger economy and a fairer society”

absolutely incredible. It assumes that we already have a stronger economy and a fairer society, and we patently do not. We have had the worst economic recovery in 100 years. After three years where the economy flatlined, the recovery is still very fragile. We need 1.6% growth each quarter to catch up to the growth we had at the end of 2010.

What is growth based on? Once again, we are seeing the start of a housing bubble, driven by the Government’s policies, and an increase in household debt, which was up to £2.9 billion in March this year. The Tories’ 2010 manifesto stated:

“A sustainable recovery must be driven by growth in exports”.

Absolutely. Who would disagree with that? But the Government have not enabled that to happen. The trade figures remain in the red—by £22.4 billion in quarter 4 last year, which is equivalent to 5.4% of GDP. By their own measures, the Government are failing. Related to that, UK productivity is the second lowest in the G7 and 20% lower than the G7 average. That is the widest gap since 1992 and reflects a massive fall in non-financial investment.

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Small businesses, which I have been campaigning for and championing since I entered the House three years ago and which employ nearly half the work force, are still feeling the pinch. The Federation of Small Businesses survey shows that access to finance and late payments are still the two biggest issues, with £30.2 billion owed to them in late payments. Although I recognise that the Government have finally responded to the issues that my inquiry into late payments identified last year and taken up some of my recommendations, it is likely that the measures will relate only to the public sector. That is not good enough and does not go far enough. We need to ensure that the Government are standing up to big businesses and doing the right thing. If they do not, we will.

Then, of course, we had the Government’s arrogance about what they would do about public borrowing. They claimed that they would clear the deficit by 2015, but we are not even halfway there yet, and they are still borrowing £190 billion more than they planned.

Associated with the fragile recovery are the effects of unemployment and employment. The unemployment rate is above pre-recession levels, and employment rates are below pre-recession levels. I still have major issues with how the figures are distorted by the inappropriate sanctioning that is a policy in the Department for Work and Pensions.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend share my concern—it was one of the points I wanted to raise with the Chancellor when I was attempting to intervene on him—that more than 1 million people who are unemployed do not appear on the claimant count of which he is so proud? They represent more than 47% of the total number of the unemployed. There appears to be no knowledge of what is happening with these individuals and why they are finding it so difficult to get jobs. It clearly cannot be benefits dependency, because they are not on benefits.

Debbie Abrahams: Absolutely. My hon. Friend highlights another issue with how information on claimants and people not receiving payments is being missed. We should be doing as much as we can to expose those issues.

I mentioned the employment rate still being below pre-recession levels. The jobs that have been created since 2010 tend to be insecure, part time, low paid and on zero-hours contracts. The number of people on short-term contracts has increased twentyfold since 2010 to 1.65 million, 655,000 of them involuntary. Increases in the number of temporary jobs account for more than half the rise in employment. Nearly one in five, or 1.46 million people, work part time because they cannot get full-time work. That is the highest underemployment since 1992. Four out of five new jobs, and one in three of those in Oldham, pay below the living wage.

Another issue is the geographical spread of the so-called recovery. Since 2010, 79% of new jobs have been created in London, with another 10% in nine urban centres outside London.

In the limited time available, I want to talk about the inequalities this Government are presiding over. All those employment and unemployment effects are happening at a time when the Government have made specific

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policy decisions on increasing the top rate of tax for people with incomes of more £150,000, but average wages are down £1,600 a year. The analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that the net effect of tax and benefit changes for an average family is a loss of more than £900 since 2010, while bank bonuses have soared by 83% and top-to-bottom pay ratios in the FTSE 100 stand at 300:1.

We are already seeing the impact in access to food banks: this week’s Oxfam report, “Below the Breadline”, shows that 20,247,042 meals were given to people in food poverty in 2013-14 by the three main food aid providers—a 54% increase on 2012. Another recent Oxfam report, “A Tale of Two Britains”, highlighted the growing gap between rich and poor, with five of the richest families in the UK wealthier than the bottom 20%, or 12.6 million. That follows a raft of other reports—for example, from the Equality Trust.

The gap matters—it really does. It matters because, as overwhelming evidence shows, society as a whole benefits from being fairer and more equal in areas ranging from life expectancy and mental health to educational attainment, social cohesion and social mobility. It is worrying that we are seeing further increases in premature deaths in deprived areas compared with more affluent ones. According to a report published in May, people in Manchester are twice as likely to die early as people in Wokingham, yet as I mentioned in Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, last December the Government scrapped the health inequalities formula that Labour introduced in office to ensure that NHS resources were allocated according to need, and which the analysis proves has been effective.

A fairer, more equal society also benefits our economy. Again, there is overwhelming evidence from a range of sources that inequality causes financial instability, undermines productivity and retards growth.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. It will be obvious to the hon. Members in the Chamber that a great many still wish to speak this afternoon and there is very little time left. After the next speaker has concluded, I will reduce the time limit to four minutes. I appreciate that this makes it difficult for Members who have prepared speeches, but if everyone is to be given the opportunity to speak, we simply cannot have more than four minutes. I call Andrew Selous.

2.47 pm

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): There seems to be a degree of amnesia among Opposition Members about the scale of the great recession presided over by the last Government and which this Government are having to deal with. That recession cost the British economy £112 billion, and it cost 750,000 people their job. On Labour’s watch, youth unemployment increased by nearly half, long-term unemployment almost doubled in just two years, 5 million people were left on out-of-work benefits, and in one in five households no one was working. We have made improvements, although of course we want to go further, but it is worth remembering the scale of the difficulties this Government have had to deal with in the past four years.

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Government Members believe in high-skill, high-value jobs. That is why we are so passionate about our apprenticeship programme and about the university technical colleges we are introducing. It is why we are so passionate about our young people gaining the best skills and about improving school standards. That is the way to get pay increases, to defeat poverty and to deal with the cost of living issues facing our constituents.

In my constituency, I see employers rising to the challenge. I see B/E Aerospace in Leighton Buzzard now employing some 540 people, Honeytop Speciality Foods developing a new factory, and Care Group, a company from India, setting up a new factory on the Woodside estate in Dunstable. In India, that business has taken on a significant number of disabled people, and its delightful chief executive plans to do the same in this country—let no one say that capitalism cannot have a human face and a heart.

The jobs figures in my constituency show that there has been a 40% fall in the overall claimant count for jobseeker’s allowance in the past year and a fall in unemployment of 54% for 18 to 24-year-olds, 35% for those over 50, and 39% for those who have been out of work for more than 12 months. Of course, we have further to go—we want everyone to have a job—but that is not bad progress, given the scale of the challenges with which we were left.

We have a Prime Minister who has said at the Dispatch Box that he would like to see a minimum wage of £7 an hour. More companies are paying the living wage. I remind Opposition Members that it took a Conservative Mayor of London to introduce a living wage in London, and a Conservative Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to make sure the cleaners in the Department got the living wage. That did not happen under the previous Government.

What would a socialist Government look like? We do not have to imagine it, because we can just look across the channel, where we will see higher rates of unemployment, much lower rates of business start-up and a whole host of French entrepreneurs, such as Mr Guillaume Santacruz, crossing the channel to set up business here. He has said:

“Where will I have the bigger opportunity in Europe?”

Of the UK, he has said:

“It’s more dynamic and international, business funding is easier to get, and it’s a better base if you want to expand.”

He has left socialist France to come to a majority-Conservative-led Britain to expand his business.

Oliver Colvile: Does my hon. Friend agree that cutting corporation tax makes it much more attractive for business and industry to come here, and that that is a key thing we should be looking to do, to make sure we have lower taxes?

Andrew Selous: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We sometimes miss the point that what we should concentrate on is not the tax rate, but the amount of tax the Exchequer gains. Economic history has shown over a long period that lower rates of tax tend to generate more tax revenue, as they inspire entrepreneurs to create more businesses and expand them.

I am proud that we have a Government who are rising to the infrastructure challenge facing this country. We have heard a lot about infrastructure. My area has waited for a crucial bypass for 60, 70 or even 80 years. I

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have watched the town in which my constituency office is located, Dunstable, and the neighbouring town of Houghton Regis being throttled by excessive traffic congestion for many years. It has had a dreadful impact on businesses there. Even though permission was given for the road in 2003, not a shovel hit the ground during the whole 13 years under the previous Labour Government. I can tell hon. Members that diggers are now on the ground in my constituency and the road is going to get built. There will be relief for the people of Dunstable and Houghton Regis, who waited a long 13 years under the previous Government for nothing at all to happen.

We have the courage to make sure that people can get on trains in the morning and do not arrive at platforms that are already full. We have not built a new railway line since the Victorian era, but it is this Government who have the courage to rise to the infrastructure challenge.

We have also shown courage on pensions. Have not Opposition Members received letters from their constituents telling them how appalling the annuity market has been and how the projections of their future pensions were on the floor, cut by more than half? Were they not concerned by that? We on the Government Benches were, and, as the Chancellor said earlier, many of us came in Friday after Friday to try to get private Members’ Bills through to do something about it. Of course, Labour Members did not trust our constituents to spend their own money wisely. Oh no, they did not want to do that—they wanted to control it. I am proud to be serving in a Government who trust people with their own money. As the Chancellor has said, they have earned it, they have saved it and they have the right to have control over it. That is exactly what we should be doing.

Those are all very good things. Of course, there is further to go. The way to deal with the cost of living and help people pay their bills is more jobs, more better paid and highly skilled jobs and a high value-added economy. We are going in the right direction. We are creating more jobs, and Government Members want them to be well paid and highly skilled, and that is what we will continue to try to achieve.

2.54 pm

Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): Listening to the Chancellor, I think the Tory attack lines for the next election are pretty clear. They go like this: “Labour left a dreadful economic mess, which we had to clear up the way we did. It’s been painful, but we were all in it together. We always had a long-term economic plan, and now it’s come good and we have a strong economic recovery.” What unites all of those claims is that every one of them is utterly false.

Labour did not leave an economic mess—the bankers did. In the Labour pre-crash years, the biggest deficit was 3.3% of GDP, whereas the Thatcher and Major Governments ratcheted up bigger deficits in 10 out of their 18 years. Although Thatcher-Major achieved a surplus in two years, Blair-Brown achieved a surplus in four years.

We were not all in it together. Average wages have fallen 7% since the crash, while, according to The Sunday Times rich list published a month ago, the richest thousand

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persons in the population have increased their wealth in this short period—they have actually doubled it—to just over half a trillion pounds.

In so far as the Chancellor had any long-term plan at all, it was to shrink the public sector in order to enable the private sector to expand into it, but, of course, that did not happen. Of the 1 million jobs that have allegedly been created, two thirds are self-employed on a pittance and almost all the rest are insecure, low paid and on zero-hours contracts. The fact is that virtually none of them are full-time jobs on or near the median income.

As for the present recovery, it is far too dependent on consumer debt to last and it cannot be sustainable. If we look at all the sources of demand—wage levels, productivity, business investment and exports net of imports—we see that they are all dramatically negative.

The biggest fib in the Tory lexicon is that the Tories had to clear the huge deficit by prolonged austerity. They did not. The then Labour Chancellor’s two stimulatory Budgets in 2009 and 2010 brought the deficit down sharply from £157 billion in 2009 to £118 billion in 2011—a reduction of nearly £40 billion in just two years. The present Chancellor’s austerity Budgets have slowed the reduction to a trickle and it has reached £108 billion this year—a reduction of £10 billion over three years. There is not much doubt there about the quickest and best way to cut the deficit.

What should be done? Initially, with private investment flat on its back, we need public investment to promote growth, directed in consultation with industrial leaders at energy, transport and IT infrastructure and at house building and laying the foundations for a low-carbon economy.

How will it be paid for? With interest rates at 0.5%, a hefty investment package of £30 billion could be purchased from the markets at the bargain-basement rate of £150 million a year, which would be enough to generate more than 1 million jobs—proper jobs—within two years.

It could, however, be done without any increase at all in public borrowing. A further £25 billion to £30 billion tranche of quantitative easing could be directed not at the banks, as it has been before, but at agreed industrial projects; or the publicly owned banks, RBS and Lloyds, could be instructed to prioritise their lending to industry, rather than speculation abroad or on property; or the very rich, who have monopolised 90% of the gains since the crash, could be subject to a special super tax to help contribute to tackling the nation’s debt, which some of them helped to create and from which they have benefited the most.

2.58 pm

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): It is a great honour to contribute to this debate on the Gracious Speech. Some Members have made their final contribution to such a debate, certainly in this House, but I am sure that some will reappear in the other place.

It is fair to say that the Queen’s Speech is an attempt to build on the Government’s good efforts over four years in order to make our country continue its journey towards a fairer society with a long-term economic plan. Unemployment, long-term unemployment and youth unemployment are all down. That is far from the

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misery that was predicted several years ago. Nevertheless, I am sure that the Chancellor would be the first to admit that we have not tackled the deficit as quickly as we would have liked. Of course the issue is that, as the Office for Budget Responsibility pointed out, the recession was deeper than was initially realised, and therefore it is taking longer to get out of.

Given the amendment we are considering and the guidance given earlier, I cannot talk about some of the Bills in the Queen’s Speech, but there is one that I think will be iconic and will I am sure receive the support of the whole House: the Modern Slavery Bill. I will keep to the guidance, but it is important that instead of having just a budget debate, we continue to consider the ideas that we will all contribute to in the next 10 months.

Earlier, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) put a question to the Chancellor, to which my right hon. Friend replied, in which he rightly pointed out that productivity is not recovering. As the Chancellor said, however, to some extent choices have to be made. It is fair to say that keeping people in work—indeed, having more people in work—is probably a better choice at this moment in time, which will then allow us to focus on the productivity challenge that all of us in this country need to address in order to keep our economic plan going. However, that challenge is not unique to our country, which is why we continue to seek reform at the European Union level.

The Bills that we have put forward include the small business Bill. One of the things that the Government have been trying to do is to remove some of the barriers to growth, while enabling some of the activities that they would like to see. We will see that with export finance, and with finance being targeted at small businesses and the help in that sector. There is also the important measure adding a deregulation target—a commendable element that I think we will all enjoy passing.

Of course, there are important measures to help people with work and the cost of child care; child care payments will be addressed in the Child Care Payments Bill. The National Insurance Contributions Bill is really important. I am sure that many Members of this House have examples of companies having done the wrong thing, and we will set that right, just as we will on issues such as zero-hours contracts and removing the exclusivity clause.

On the infrastructure Bill, I welcome some of the plans related to housing. I give a cautious welcome to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime, with Sizewell C hopefully being built in my constituency. However, I want to ensure that the voice of the community is still part of that NSIP regime, as it should be.

There is no doubt that the economic plan is working. In my own constituency, unemployment is now at 604, which is the lowest it has been since December 2007. These are all good things, but the journey is only halfway completed. That is why I am confident that the British public, having seen five good years of government, will make the right decision next May and allow us to propose another Queen’s Speech in 12 months’ time.

3.2 pm

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): This Queen’s Speech comes at a time when the public’s faith in politicians, here in Britain and in Northern Ireland, is nearing rock bottom, and many of the reasons for that

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lead directly back to the subject of today’s debate and today’s amendment, which I support—everyday living standards. The economy, accompanied by austerity measures, has meant less money in people’s pockets.

It is not comfortable for people in Northern Ireland to hear the Tory-led Government crow in this House about the positive state of the economy and claim that there has been a miraculous recovery, because that is not what people are experiencing and it is far removed from the everyday reality for most families. People feel that no matter how hard they work, their lot will not get any better, and a large proportion of them remain trapped in low-wage temporary contracts that offer no security and little hope, while those who cannot find work are repeatedly vilified.

The rising levels of inequality—highlighted recently by the Governor of the Bank of England, no less—and an economy in which pay freezes are common and wages fall far below inflation, are hurting people right across Northern Ireland. Low and stagnant pay rates are endemic, with 26% of employees in Northern Ireland being paid below the living wage level. That percentage is higher than for any region in England, Scotland or Wales.

Just last week, the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action held a conference specifically on the problem of in-work poverty, at which it was revealed that working households now make up a majority—some 52%—of those in poverty. We are told by the Government not to worry, because they are “rebalancing the economy” and boosting the private sector. Any such boost to the private sector would be welcome, but as it stands Northern Ireland has the lowest private sector wage level of any region within the UK. We must ask not only what private sector development there is but what kind it is. It must provide sustainable, stable and fairly paid jobs.

That is all compounded by the high bills that people continue to face for food, electricity and fuel. In Northern Ireland, we pay even more for our energy than people in other UK regions. There have been decreases in the cost of oil on the global market, but people do not see that reflected in their bills. They see prices go up at the drop of a hat but never seem to fall, an issue that just this week Ofgem has asked energy companies to explain.

In my party, we are in no doubt that the current cost of living crisis is hitting the majority of families right across Northern Ireland, and we ask the Government at this late stage to ensure that that situation is rectified in the last year of this Tory-led coalition. If it is not, more people will be totally placed in peril, and at great financial disadvantage.

3.6 pm

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak. This is the first time that I have been called to speak in a debate on the Gracious Speech since being elected as an MP in 2010, and since we are debating the final Queen’s Speech in this Parliament before the next general election perhaps it is the last occasion that I will have a chance to be called; whether I have a further opportunity is a matter for the voters in Montgomeryshire next May. Anyway, thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me today.

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The Prime Minister began his speech at the beginning of this debate last Wednesday by telling the House that the most important task facing the coalition Government during the next year is continuing the work of restoring our economy. That is absolutely the right approach. There are 11 interesting and important Bills in the Queen’s Speech, but underpinning everything that the coalition Government should focus on in the next year is economic recovery.

While I emphasise the important aim in the Gracious Speech of continuing in a determined way with the task of economic recovery, we should acknowledge what has already been achieved. It is far more than many of us would have expected and it has certainly defied the consistently dire predictions that have been made by the Opposition during the past four years; indeed, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor today listed some of those predictions, which have been shown to be completely false. In particular, the falling levels of unemployment and the rising levels of employment have been nothing short of miraculous. Only yesterday, the employment figures for May were published. Unemployment fell by 161,000 in May. Since 2010, more than 2 million jobs have been created.

In May the number of unemployed people in my constituency fell to 647—just 2.1% of the economically active—which is 270 fewer than a year ago, and 33 fewer than in April. Those are astonishingly good figures, and they are reflected in constituencies right across the UK.

Montgomeryshire is blessed with many dynamic small and medium-sized enterprises across the range of sectors. Over the past few weeks I have visited several of them, accompanied by Ministers from the Wales Office team. We visited Sidoli, Invertec and T. Alun Jones in Welshpool, Makefast, Stagecraft, Quartix and Trax in Newtown, and last Thursday I joined a celebration at Stadco in Llanfyllin as that outstanding company received the Jaguar Land Rover quality standard award. Those businesses, which are mainly in manufacturing, are growing solidly, providing new jobs and creating apprentices, demonstrating their confidence in Britain and in the Government’s long-term economic plan. The last thing they need is a national insurance jobs tax, which the shadow Chancellor so studiously refused to rule out earlier today.

Over recent months the Opposition have made much of the cost of living—they have done so again today—as if Labour’s management of the economy had nothing whatsoever to do with it. Experience teaches us that the only way to create sustainable increases in wages is through the marketplace, through the pressure created by competition for good, well-trained employees who are willing to work. Therefore, it is absolutely right that the coalition Government continue with their brilliantly successful economic plans all the way up to the general election.

In the 20 seconds remaining I want to say that my constituency is rural and depends largely on farming. Currently, the cost of living is being seriously affected by what is happening to the dairy industry. The Government need to tackle that issue and understand why imports are coming in and why the supermarkets are not accurately labelling theme.

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3.10 pm

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): It is not at all surprising that Government Members want to talk about the “long-term” economic plan, because that diverts attention from the failure of the short-term, one-Parliament economic plan that we were told about extensively in 2010 and 2011, which they said justified many of the measures taken. Interestingly, it is clear from some of the contributions we have heard since last week, particularly the contribution from the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), that such economic growth that we have managed to see over the past year appears to have been stimulated by public investment. He talked about railways and a bypass. That sounds like a Labour policy: public investment to create private sector jobs. Actually, it is our economic plan that is being successful.

Does it matter whose economic plans did or did not work? Many people would say, “Oh, get on with it. We have to move forward.” But it is important, and in two particular ways. One way has to do with the fragility that still exists in the economy. I want to mention an issue I raised in an earlier intervention: the growing gap between the unemployment rate and the claimant count. When Government Members talk about falling unemployment in their constituencies, they are actually talking about the claimant count. When they greet anything Opposition Members say with, “By the way, the hon. Member should be aware that unemployment in her constituency has gone down by 20%”, they are talking about the claimant count. Some 47% of those who are unemployed are not in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance. That is 1 million people.

What is happening to those people and to the economy within which this is taking place? A lot of them clearly cannot get jobs, which suggests that this great recovery is not as healthy as the Government claim. Perhaps it differs by geographic area. From the point of view of the economy, this is particularly important, but it is also particularly important for the individuals involved—we must never forget that. Some of them will have a working partner, although not necessarily a very well-off one. They need only relatively small part-time earnings to lose jobseeker’s allowance after six months, because after that they will not qualify for the income-related benefit. Remember that that household has already lost one income, due to losing one of its two jobs, so it has a much reduced income and then it loses £72 a week in jobseeker’s allowance. That household’s buying power and standard of living has dropped catastrophically. What is happening to those people?

Some of those people are in an even more vulnerable position. I will illustrate that with the case of a constituent who came to me who had no income because he had been sanctioned for six months having been declared fit for work. He has a learning disability of a considerable nature and could not cope with the conditionality of jobseeker’s allowance. He just gave up and stopped claiming because he could not cope with it any longer. He was being supported by his parents, who were living on retirement pensions. How many more people are there who have just dropped through the so-called safety net? I think that the Government should be worrying about that, because of what it is telling us

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both about our economy and about individual cases. I would like the Government to look into that with some urgency.

3.14 pm

Mike Thornton (Eastleigh) (LD): Looking at what has been happening over the past months and years, I am impressed by the desire of Members in all parts of the House to see a fairer society built on a stronger economy. The difference is in how we achieve that. We have seen that we need to concentrate on providing jobs, apprenticeships and training for young people.

In Eastleigh, youth unemployment is at its lowest for five years, not four. There are 125 young claimants, or 1.5%. That is still too high but it is a great improvement. The increase in training and apprenticeships is particularly important. We have hit about 3,000 new apprenticeships, and these are real apprenticeships, not some sort of fake training jobs. This is the way to go. If we want to create a fairer society, we need to train people, educate them and help them get the jobs they need.

Work must be worthwhile, and one of the ways to ensure that is through the Liberal Democrat policy—yes, it is a Liberal Democrat policy—of increasing the tax allowance to £10,500 a year. It is not enough, though. We need to increase that to make sure that no one on the minimum wage pays income tax. I did a rough calculation. The tax allowance would be £12,500 a year. I look forward to that happening soon.

In the time remaining, I want to look briefly at housing. One of the things for which we have been hugely criticised was the help to buy policy. I was talking to the Council of Mortgage Lenders just two days ago. Of the 19,393 equity loans taken so far, only 1,000 were in London. The vast majority were for first-time buyers, and the vast majority were for houses of less than £200,000, not £600,000. The scheme is doing exactly what it was meant to do—that is, allowing young people from an ordinary family with a small deposit to buy a house, improving on the situation that has existed for several years, where people had to be rich or have rich parents to be able to get together a deposit to buy a house. Of course the Governor of the Bank of England is right that we should keep a sharp eye on the scheme to make sure that it does what it was meant to do, and not what is claimed. It is vital that we continue to build more houses. I hope the housing associations can be targeted to allow them to provide the bulk of this housing.

On the subject of housing, a long-time bugbear of mine is stamp duty. Why on earth do we have a stamp duty with a cliff edge and a shelf? Up to £125,000 people do not pay a penny. If they buy a house at £125,000 + 1p, they suddenly pay £1,250. That is absurd. If the Treasury would like to find out from me how we can reform this in a totally revenue-neutral and fair way, please pick up the phone and call me. It is very simple and easy to do.

3.18 pm

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): One of the things that my constituents do not like is the sort of debate that we have had today. They watch it on television and think, “What on earth is going on?” We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world; we

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have the sixth largest economy; and we are highly successful in so many ways, under both the present Government and the previous one. My constituents look at the Queen’s Speech, but do not see how it relates to the reality of their existence.

As a social and economic entity, we have changed vastly over the years. This year, we remember the wasted lives of the 1914-18 war, when 16 million young men died. Since that time, and since the second world war, this country has changed dramatically. Nationally and in my constituency—we in Huddersfield are the average—about 8% of people now make anything in manufacturing. The manufacturing sector is very small but highly efficient. It is growing, but as it does so, it increasingly uses sophisticated machinery and fewer skilled workers.

We have an hourglass economy, with a large number of very skilled people who are doing very well, but many people with traditional jobs and a fair number of skills who have been squeezed out of such occupations, while people with few skills are having a bleak time and will have a bleaker time in future.

So much of this Queen’s Speech fails to address the fact that so many Members of Parliament, especially Opposition Members, but—let me be generous—Government Members as well, came into the House to get a good life for people. Many people in our country are not getting a chance to have a good life; they are certainly not doing so in Huddersfield. What we need to have and what should have been in the Queen’s Speech is an emphasis on the difficult things, such as homes and housing. A whole bunch of cowards on these Benches—I say this nicely, because I do not want to be brought up before the Speaker—will not face the fact that nimbyism and the green belt are preventing houses from being built so that people can have a decent place in which to live. When are we going to recognise that?

When will we invest more in skills, putting real investment in our further education sector and in genuine apprenticeships that last longer than a year and fit people for future jobs, not present ones? The fact is that we have a good skill base, but it is not big enough. If we are not careful and if we are not brave and courageous, we will not have the skills relevant to keep our companies in the premier league.

Our constituents do not like the argy-bargy that we have all the time. We would be much better agreeing on lots of the stuff that comes before the House for us to discuss. Universities are an example. We must settle on the fact that the present way of funding our universities is putting them all in danger. They are absolutely the jewels in the crown of our skill base and our educational system, but they are under threat.

In this Queen’s Speech debate and during the last year up to the election, we must prioritise skills, education and homes. I could write the Labour manifesto. That is what we need to do. It is what this Queen’s Speech is missing, and what we will replace in a year’s time.

3.22 pm

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): I am pleased that the debate is about living standards because it gives me an opportunity to make the link between rising living standards and improved democracy. That link has been made many times before, notably by the celebrated

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Power commission, later by the economist Richard Layard, and later still in a very wide-ranging study by Harvard university. In their different ways, they all established that rising living standards boost the public appetite for democracy, and that boosted and strengthened democracy in turn stimulates an increase in and boosts living standards. The link is unavoidable.

One element of the Queen’s Speech is a commitment to introduce a recall system. In theory, that would certainly improve our democracy and therefore lead to rising living standards. I say “in theory” because the Government’s current proposal falls so short of genuine or meaningful recall as to be meaningless. However, the House will at least have the opportunity to make profound amendments to the Bill, and I very much hope that it does.

Recall was promised by all three parties before the last election. They felt obliged to make that promise on the back of the expenses scandal that rocked the House, and it presented an easy, democratic and simple solution. Effectively, recall means enabling voters to remove underperforming MPs if at any time they lose the confidence of the majority of their constituents. It could not be more straightforward: if enough constituents sign a petition in a given period of time, they earn the right to hold a referendum to ask whether constituents want to recall their MP, and if a majority want to recall their MP, there is a by-election. There is a natural safeguard in that the threshold would, in an average constituency, require 14,000 constituents actively to visit the town hall and sign a petition during an 8-week period. Recall would put people in charge, allowing them to replace their MP if a clear majority want to do so.

The public understood that they had finally been promised a reform that might empower them, but then the election happened. I am afraid to say that the Labour Opposition went quiet on the issue, and the coalition Government began to weave small print through their promise. The current proposal is for a form of recall that can happen only by permission of the Standards Committee, and its criteria are so narrow as to make it entirely meaningless.

People are already angry with politicians—the signs are everywhere—but hon. Members should try to imagine how voters will react when they discover that they have been duped by this pretend recall Bill, this illusion of reform. It is extraordinary that even if the Bill becomes law, an MP could switch parties, fail to turn up once to Parliament or even go on a two or three-year holiday without qualifying for recall. At the very first scandal, voters will learn that they have been tricked. The anger that they feel will dwarf—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The hon. Gentleman, with some ingenuity, has done well to keep in order and speak to the amendment. I trust that, in the final minute of his speech, he will conclude with reference to the specific matters in the amendment.

Zac Goldsmith: I will certainly do my best, Madam Deputy Speaker.

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Even if people do not realise it yet, at the very first scandal, they will realise that they have been duped. Even before the Bill has been put to the test, 170,000 people have signed a petition saying that they want the real deal—not this thing that the Government are offering. Unlock Democracy has said that, given a choice between this Bill and no Bill, it would go for no Bill, because it thinks that the Bill represents a step back.

I understand why the Government have done this. The Deputy Prime Minister has talked about kangaroo courts and vexatious campaigns, but he is wrong. Where recall happens around the world, there is not one example of a successful vexatious recall campaign. There could not be one here, because it would require so many people—14,000 people—to be persuaded to join a vexatious campaign. We know that that is simply not possible in our constituencies.

I am going to run out of time. I simply ask Members to consider how the Government’s proposal might work. It is much more worrying than true and genuine recall.

3.26 pm

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): That was the week that was, as we used to say in the ’70s and ’80s. To echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), this is the last throw of the dice for the coalition Government. The numbers certainly have not come up for the working people of the UK and, in particular, the young people of this country, who are working in terrible environments that should have gone with the bygone years.

There are problems with zero-hours contracts and the minimum wage. Those people do not have a voice in the workplace because the coalition Government have tried to silence the voice of the trade unions as much as possible. That is the coalition Government’s whole agenda.

There is bogus self-employment, particularly in the construction industry, where people are being asked to pay double national insurance—as employees and as employers. That is a complete sham.

I have never openly admitted to being an admirer of the Tory party, but one thing I do admire the Tories for is that when they get into power, they deliver for their own. They do not just talk about that in rhetorical terms; they deliver it. That is what the Queen’s Speech was about—delivering for their friends in the City and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, I have to say that the Labour Government could have done far more for working people in this country than they did in their 13 years in office. With one or two exceptions, they did not fulfil the ambitions that people had for them; they did not have the hunger or the aspiration to take them forward.

I am pleased that the current Labour leader is talking the language that people understand and that people want to hear. I am confident that, if he continues using that kind of language, we will see the return of a radical Labour Government. There is a great appetite out there for change. That was certainly reflected on the doorstep during the European elections, when it pained some of us to be told, “Youse are all the same. There’s no difference between youse.” The days of the Labour party tinkering at the edges are gone, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition is taking us in the right direction.

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Mention has been made of food banks. Personally, I think that it is a stain on all our characters that there are food banks in this country. When we pose at food banks for press releases, there should be a big sign at the front saying, “I’m sorry.” We have subjected people to using food banks through our policies and we cannot blame anyone other than ourselves.

One of the most positive policies of the last Labour Government was the introduction of the minimum wage. However, we have dined out on that for long enough. We now need to see the living wage. I am proud to say that my local authority, Renfrewshire council, is not only introducing the living wage for its employees, but using its procurement processes to tell its suppliers, “We will no longer give you the contract simply because you employ cheap labour.” It is trying to instil the standards that it upholds among its suppliers.

The other people who are walking free are employers who encourage migrant workers to come to this country to undermine and undercut indigenous workers’ terms and conditions, which causes all sorts of problems in communities. The senior executive members of the big companies go back to their leafy suburbs and leave the rest of us to get on with it. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition talks about irresponsible capitalism, and that is what we need to stop in this country. We need to stop the exploitation of migrant workers at the expense of our indigenous workers.

3.30 pm

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak this stage of the debate. May I give my apologies for leaving early? I have arranged to meet some constituents with a Minister immediately after my speech.

The amendment calls for the creation of a recovery to ensure increased living standards for the many, and we can achieve that by growing our economy. It is growing in my constituency, as is shown partly in the claimant count statistics—we are at 50% of the 2010 level, with a fall of one third over the past year. Much of that has been achieved through our great location at the centre of England, with excellent road and rail connections. In particular, the Government are improving the junction of the M1 and M6 at Catthorpe, which makes my constituency attractive to business. Substantial development of both industrial and residential property is taking place, as the Prime Minister remarked when he arrived by train at Rugby station to travel along the M6 to the manufacturing technology centre at Ansty. He saw the substantial new housing and industrial development that is coming forward.

The MTC is itself a success story in supporting manufacturing, and a big theme of this Government’s work has been a rebalancing of our economy. That is how we can create growth and improve living standards. Let us not forget that the manufacturing sector of our economy halved in the 13 years of the last Government. In my constituency, we are making things. Only a few weeks ago, I went to Rosyth to see the new aircraft carriers, which are propelled by motors built by GE Energy in my constituency.

A company called Automotive Insulations is also a superb success story in the manufacturing supply chain. It produces acoustic and thermal insulation for the motor industry, a sector that is growing fast, with

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customers including Jaguar Land Rover and Bentley. It has doubled its turnover to £12 million in the past year and won awards through GrowthAccelerator, including its “Game Changer” award. Its business has grown, and its staff told me only a year or two ago of the need for new premises. I was able to introduce them to my proactive Conservative-controlled local authority, which introduced them to a developer who is completing new premises for the company as we speak.

A proactive local authority is also incredibly important for the second theme mentioned in the amendment that I wish to refer to—the need to boost house building. In Rugby, we are building houses. We have just granted consent for 6,200 new homes at the Rugby radio station site, and there has been substantial local support for it. It has been a matter of when, not whether, the development will take place, because there has been effective consultation and engagement with local residents. I hear time after time from developers who want to develop in Rugby about the professional and positive approach of planners in my constituency. Other local authorities could take up that approach. I add that my local authority has been diligent in ensuring that it has an up-to-date local plan. Many of the problems that occur elsewhere arise because of the lack of a local plan.

In the last few moments of my speech, I will refer to plastic bags—with my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) sitting behind me. I was disappointed to see the provision in the Queen’s Speech, because plastic bags make up a tiny part of this country’s litter and household waste. Most bags are used many times before they are put to another use—for instance, as bin liners. It is a great disappointment that the matter was included in the Queen’s Speech.

3.34 pm

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): “What planet does the Chancellor live on?”, said the Stockland Green mother. “Does he begin to understand people like me? My husband has been made redundant three times, and each time the new job is on a lower rate of pay. Do they know, up there, what life is like for us down here?”

That goes to the heart of what the shadow Chancellor said earlier about an era of discontent and disconnection. There is discontent because life is hard for most of my constituents. Living standards are squeezed and people are worried about their kids and concerned about vested interests—energy companies, for example—taking advantage of them. They say to me time and again, “Jack, it just ain’t fair.” The disconnection is because there is mistrust of politics and politicians, and incredulity when people are told that recovery is under way. Time and again I hear, “Recovery—what recovery?” My constituents say to me that this Government simply do not understand their lives, because for too many of them, life is hard and there is insecurity in the world of work. I meet constituents on zero-hours contracts and those in the building industry who complain about being undercut. One said, “Jack, they are exploiting the migrants and undercutting us.”

Debbie Abrahams: Is not the increase in the number of people on zero-hours contracts an absolute shame? The Chancellor was not even able to provide a figure for that number.

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Jack Dromey: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the people I met was a young lad of 22. He said, “Jack, I’ve just had a baby. We are trying to bring up our kid as best we can but I cannot plan from one week to the next because of my zero-hours contract.” A woman, Rachel, poured out her heart to the Leader of the Opposition on the Castle Vale estate about what life is like trying to bring up a young child on the minimum wage. There is insecurity at home. One in two people in Stockland Green in my constituency live in the private rented sector and most cannot plan from one year to the next where they send their kids to school or manage their households budgets, because like Cathleen they have contracts that last six months at a time.

Some people are struggling to buy a home, such as the young family who came to see me and said, “We’re desperate to buy a home, Jack, but we simply cannot afford it. It costs six or seven times what we earn combined to buy a home in this area.” Others struggle to maintain their living standards. One family said, “We’re worse off now than we were in 2009, and for us, holidays are a thing of the past.” Barbara and Jim Brown are struggling, and they are typical of so many of my constituents who can no longer afford to pay their energy bills. Local businesses are struggling to get loans from banks. One civil engineering company said, “Jack, it would be easier to break into my bank than get a loan from it”.

Mums and dads are anxious about their sons and daughters, such as the wonderful woman in the Castle Vale area who said, “I love my son, Jack. He’s got learning difficulties and he has never worked. He is desperately frustrated and I want to see him get on.” Now, at last he is getting on. Why? Because Birmingham city council’s youth jobs fund has funded a job for him in the upcycle project. You should see the smile on his face, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The council has also driven an apprenticeship programme with 1,500 apprentices thus far. The biggest builder of homes in Birmingham is tackling some of the problems in the private rented sector and driving the living wage to transform the city into a living wage city. However, faced with the biggest cuts in local government history, what can be done by local government is important but limited.

In conclusion, the message from this debate is this: if people want an economy that works, decent wages that reward hard work, a higher minimum wage, a living wage and an end to undercutting; if they want security in their home or the security of knowing they will be able to buy a home, and if they want the next generation to get on, including building a new generation of badly needed homes, creating jobs and apprenticeships—the kind of wonderful young apprentices I see at Willmott Dixon in my constituency; if they want to be confident that they can heat their home, and to have an honest Government who will not promise the moon but will move mountains on their behalf, stand up for them and be on their side; and if they want a Government who are fair, without the grotesque contrast between the tax cut for millionaires and the bedroom tax being introduced on the same day; if they want a Government who will reverse that and put the burden on the broadest shoulders and abolish the bedroom tax, and if they want a strong economy and fair society, they want a Labour Government.

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3.39 pm

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): The Government were formed with one overarching purpose: to get our economy back on its feet, building a framework for jobs and restoring some sanity to our nation’s finances. Nowhere was this need greater than in the black country in the west midlands.

The previous Government promised to put an end to boom and bust. For families in Halesowen and Rowley Regis, they delivered on one half of that pledge. Even before the start of the great recession, gross value added in Dudley and Sandwell collapsed from 88% of the national average in 1997 to just 74% in 2008. As the prosperity gap between the black country and the south-east grew out of control, the number of private sector jobs in the west midlands actually fell under the previous Government. If the boom bypassed the black country, the bust hit families hard in Halesowen and Rowley Regis.

Now, four years of action from this Government—one might call it a long-term economic plan—have helped to turn things around, and many families in Halesowen and Rowley Regis are starting to see the benefits. Yesterday’s jobs figures showed unemployment falling more quickly in the west midlands than anywhere else in the country, with 80% of the increase in jobs being full-time positions. In my constituency, the number of people who are out of work has fallen by more than a third since the election. Some 2,000 more people in Halesowen and Rowley Regis are in work, helping to ensure a stronger future for them, their families and the country as a whole. Thanks to the year-on-year increases in personal allowances, 30,000 of my constituents are now able to keep more of what they earn for themselves and their families, and 3,000 people on low incomes no longer have to pay any income tax at all. Things are still difficult for a lot of families and we still need to do more to make sure that everybody benefits as the economy recovers, but the evidence is strong that things are getting better. People in Halesowen and Rowley Regis literally cannot afford to return to the mistakes of the past.

A Government cannot be judged by the weight of legislation they propose, but by the impact their actions have on the country. There is more to commend in this Queen’s Speech than we have time to discuss, but the small business, enterprise and employment Bill will make it easier for businesses in Halesowen and Rowley Regis to compete, to invest and to grow. A few days after the Budget, I was pleased to welcome the Chancellor to Cube Precision Engineering in my constituency, a young company that has grown from a staff of six to a team of more than 37. The day after the Budget, Cube placed an order for a new £325,000 machining centre to allow it to grow further, increase exports and create new jobs. The Bill will help more businesses to access the finance they need to invest in their own growth.

The measures in the Queen’s Speech build on the achievement of the Government’s long-term economic plan: helping businesses to create jobs, increase our skills base and build prosperity; supporting families with child care costs when parents return to work to make sure that it pays for them to work and our economy is able to benefit from their skills and potential; and encouraging workers to save for their futures by allowing them more choices over how they save and

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more freedom over how they use their money. This is the programme of a Government who have already delivered a lot, but who recognise there is still a lot more to do. This is a Queen’s Speech that I am very proud to support.

3.43 pm

Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): An economic recovery for whom? My constituents still struggle. Many are on part-time hours or zero-hours contracts, and those who are in work see their wages stagnating. The Prime Minister wants people to believe that the economy has picked up, but that is not the experience of many of my constituents. Many still feel the pressure and worry about their future and job security.

Recent updated statistics from the Office for National Statistics found that there are 1.4 million zero-hours jobs in the UK, even though Ministers claimed as recently as September last year that there were just 250,000. The ONS also found that in a further 1.3 million contracts, employees were given no hours at all during a sample two-week period.

Wages for my constituents in Preston remain below the north-west and UK averages. The average weekly wage in Preston in 2013 was £370—£110 less than the north-west average and £150 less than the average in the rest of the UK. The latest figures show that UK-wide pay growth has slumped to 0.7%, which is sharply down from 1.7% last month and well below inflation, at 1.8%. The Government need to raise the minimum wage and introduce the living wage. I am proud that Preston city council was one of the first councils in the country to implement the living wage, from the beginning of September 2011.

The standard of living for my constituents in Preston and many others in the north-west has not improved under this Conservative-led Government. Child poverty is above the national and regional average, at 28.7%. Life expectancy in the north-west is below the national average. For men it is 77.4 and for women it is 81.5, compared with 80 for men in the south-east and 83.8 for women. There are 2,295 people in Preston—around 5%—claiming jobseeker’s allowance. In Preston and elsewhere, there are huge amounts of hidden unemployment, among people who have received sanctions on their benefit claims and also those who have been claiming for over six months who happen to be married to someone who is in work. Although unemployment figures have dropped, the number of people on part-time or zero-hours contracts is at an all-time high, while 17.8% of children in the north-west live in workless households.

In the Queen’s Speech, the Government pledged to increase apprenticeship places to 2 million, but as I have argued in the past, they cannot say what type of apprenticeships they will be. Unskilled jobs such as stacking shelves in the local supermarket are of course welcome, but they are not replacements for good, high quality apprenticeships that give high training and added value in industry, such as at BAE Systems, which is near my constituency and has excellent training, or Westinghouse, another major company that also provides excellent training.

This Government have promised a great deal; they have delivered very little. The Queen’s Speech is a shadow

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of what it should have been if the Government were genuinely ambitious for the people of this country.

3.47 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate about the economy and the cost of living, which are central to the Government’s mission, as expressed by the long-term economic plan, which includes a number of factors that are critical to the long-term plans of this country as a whole. One is, obviously, reducing the deficit; another is making sure we have more skills and more infrastructure, along with the overall aim of rebalancing the economy.

That is of great importance for my constituency in Stroud valleys and vale, because we have more than 9,000 people working in manufacturing and engineering. That is one of the reasons why I have launched the festival of engineering and manufacturing, to put a focus on that heritage and the prospects of the sector as a whole. It is also critical to ensuring that young people have opportunities and make themselves aware of the examinations and other processes that they might like to pursue to benefit their careers.

But there is more to do, and that is one of this Government’s missions, now and after the next general election. For one thing, we need an infrastructure that enables people to get out and about and to work. In my constituency, that means improving connections with other parts of Gloucestershire—for example, by moving the railway stations to ensure that people can get to Bristol from Stroud and so forth. These are useful ideas that add up to a strengthening of an already vibrant economy that is ready for the next challenges.

The other thing we need to do is strengthen our provision of skills. Again, we have some plans in my constituency. We want to establish, in effect, a unit in a now disused part of Berkeley Magnox power station—which is now decommissioned—to provide skills for green technology for renewables and also nuclear technology. That is all good news for young people who want jobs and want to do well.

I drew the attention of the Prime Minister to the third issue I want to raise when I took him to Renishaw—a really powerful firm in my constituency, employing nearly 4,000 people, with hugely innovative and impressive products. It is a kind of Mittelstand type of firm. We need to see more of them in this country—certainly in the valleys and vale—and we need to encourage them to grow and seek to introduce even more research and development.

There are two areas worth thinking about here. The first is the taxation system, and we need to enable people to think long term without being bedevilled by short-term planning systems in taxation. They need to think beyond the horizon, which is something that our competitors, notably Germany, are often able to do. We need to adjust our taxation system to enable Mittelstand-type firms to thrive. So, too, we need to see measures to improve access to capital. That is why I am so pleased with the proposed Bill to achieve that, which we shall debate in due course.

The other big issue is ensuring that our supply chain is responsive enough to deal with the continuity of growth. We have already established centres to promote the aerospace sector and the automotive sector, all of which is good.

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In conclusion, if we want to increase living standards, the answer is increased productivity. The issues I have highlighted—part of the long-term plan as an overall strategy—are precisely the tools to do the job, and the Government are continuing to work on them.

3.51 pm

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): As predicted, the Chancellor’s remarks this afternoon made much of his “long-term economic plan”, but the original 2010 version of an export-led recovery, of increased business investment and of a shift to a new kind of economy has simply not happened. To compensate, the Government have fallen back on a good, old-fashioned, British housing bubble and consumer spend splurge as a recipe to see them through to the general election—pumping up the feel-good factor and praying that nobody notices that living standards are still sliding for huge swathes of our constituencies across the United Kingdom. This form of growth is not sustainable; it is a high-risk strategy.

The Chancellor was prodded into talking about productivity, and the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) was quite right to emphasise that should be a priority. The problem is that our productivity gap is now wider than it has been over the last 20 years, following the flatlining of the economy over the last seven years. It is not just the recession that has caused the decline. According to the Office for National Statistics, by comparison with our international competitors, output per hour worked in the UK is 21% lower than the average for the other six members of the G7. This is the biggest productivity shortfall since 1992, and according to an alternative measure, the gap in output per worker is now a horrifying 25%. Although we expect output to pick up this year, poor productivity has stifled earnings growth and squeezed real incomes. That shows what should be the priority in the ever-more competitive world that we face.

UK companies are sitting on some of the largest cash reserves of any western economy, but at the same time, according to a report from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, we have a

“sustained, long-term pattern of under-investment in public and private research and development…and publicly funded innovation.”

The UK’s total investment in R and D has been relatively static at 1.8% of GDP. In America, it is 4%, while in France and Germany, it is well over 2% and they are aiming to get to 3%. This is a new world in the 21st century. If we do not innovate and do not develop products, we are going to fall behind and our tax base will go along with it.

The Government will point out that they created a number of industrial forums for debate and decision making, and a series of industrial papers came out last year. The sector councils for the automotive and aerospace industries have been formed for many years and are industry-led, but the other councils have met on only a handful of occasions, do not have public-facing websites and are basically turning into glorified talking-shops. That needs to stop soon.

It is not surprising that the Chancellor refused to give way to me when he began to talk about the housing market, because I might have pointed out to him that the average—mean—annual salaries of those who have

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been able to take advantage of his second version of the Help to Buy scheme are £80,000 in London and £49,000 nationally. In other words, we are using taxpayers’ money to help those in the top income decile to buy houses that are already overpriced, while pricing more people out of the market. There is no solution for those on the lowest incomes, and no solution for those who are renting; they are still left behind.

We need to hear about a programme that meets the key priorities of the majority, but that has certainly not happened today.

3.55 pm

Mr David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): I fear that the amendment contains several new Labour clichés that make me nostalgic for the Blair and Brown years. Delivering rising living standards for the many, not the few, making work pay—the only one that is missing is “an end to boom and bust”.

Of course, new Labour did not deliver any of those things, but it did deliver the biggest peacetime borrowing deficit that the country has ever seen. I regret to say that Labour has not learnt anything in the last 12 months. According to the House of Commons Library, it has made £29 billion worth of unfunded spending commitments. As for making work pay, this is the party that refused, in the House, to back the benefit cap. Labour Members are quite happy for those on benefits to earn the equivalent of £40,000 a year before tax.

The amendment refers to child care. Of course that is very important for some of my constituents, especially working mothers. That is why we are introducing a Bill that will deliver 20% of child care costs—up to £10,000 per child, which is worth up to £2,000 per child per year—to working families. Moreover, 85% of the child care costs of families receiving universal credit will be covered.

What are we doing to support small business, the biggest deliverer of the 1.7 million extra jobs that have been created since 2010? I do not know what the Labour party is doing, but, as well as cutting the “jobs tax” by providing an employment allowance of £2,000 a year, we have come up with a Bill that will raise the maximum fine for employers who do not pay the minimum wage, and will ban the exclusivity that currently prevents people who are on zero-hours contracts from working for other employers.

Housing has been mentioned. It is true that we need more brownfield sites to be built on by residential developers, and our Infrastructure Bill will cut the red tape surrounding unneeded public sector land that is not being returned to planning permission territory. It will also reduce energy costs, which are a key component of the cost of living, by ensuring that shale extraction takes place across a wider area and more rapidly.

Finally, let me draw the House’s attention to an omission. I do not know whether it is due to slack drafting on the part of Opposition Front Benchers or to their general disdain for pensioners, but the word “pensioner” does not appear once in the amendment. We are introducing two Bills to deal with the fact that about 12 million of our fellow citizens are not saving enough to provide for an adequate retirement income. Our private pensions Bill will create collective pension schemes to ensure that more people can gain access to

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affordable pensions, while our pension tax Bill will bring about the most revolutionary change in pension provision that the country has seen for more than half a century. Crucially, it will allow individuals not to be compelled to buy annuities at 75, but to have true freedom in relation to the pot of money that they have built up during their working lives.

The plan is working. Labour has no plan. We should just keep on going.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. Although Members have been very well disciplined and have kept their speeches extremely short, there are still many Members waiting to speak and we are running out of time. I must therefore reduce the time limit to three minutes.

4 pm

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I will speak very quickly, Madam Deputy Speaker.

For ordinary people in Easington, east Durham and the north-east of England, things are getting harder, not easier, under this Government. Hard-working people are on average £1,600 a year worse off. Families are paying £300 more on their energy bills. At a time when people are working longer and harder for less, raising a family in Easington, as elsewhere in the country, has become more difficult as child care costs have risen by almost a third.

My good friend and near neighbour my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) raised a very interesting point at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. He asked the Prime Minister about the number of children who were living in poverty in households where someone was working. The figure was one in three. Indeed, two thirds of young people in poverty live in a working household. The Prime Minister did not address that question.

Members on the Government Benches tell us that employment is the route out of poverty, but for many parents hard work is not even enough to provide an acceptable standard of living for their children. In the north-east, full-time workers are now £36 a week less well-off than they were a year ago. The link between economic growth and living standards has been broken. The assumption that as the economy grows wages would grow too no longer holds water under the policies being pursued by this Government. I am very pleased the Labour party has pledged to raise the value of the minimum wage over the next Parliament and to move towards a living wage for businesses that can afford to pay it, and to introduce a lower 10p starting rate of tax. We can only have a successful economic recovery if it is felt throughout society, and the problem with the Government Front Bench—including, with all due respect, the Chancellor—is that the economy is only working for small clusters of privilege. It is not working for the vast majority of people, certainly not in my constituency.

I wanted to raise some issues in relation to the young unemployed and those who are not in employment or training, but I am afraid there is not time. What the public require is an economy that works for them, not just the few, and a Government prepared to deal with the real issues affecting their lives.

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4.3 pm

Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): In 1997 the Labour Government were elected to the theme tune “Things can only get better”, but in my area they were about to get a lot worse. The Teesside Development Corporation was immediately scrapped and after 13 years of neglect, Redcar and Cleveland was judged independently to have the weakest economy in the country, and Middlesbrough had the second weakest.

Now with a successful local enterprise partnership, Government money pouring in, unemployment in my constituency down by 916 in the last year and manufacturing up, we can see the fruits of some investment coming through. Tonight when I get off the train I will be going past the new £39-million biologics manufacturing centre near Darlington station and on Monday we will be signing the Tees valley city deal, which I hope will act as a brake to those Labour people who think the Tees valley should always be run from Newcastle.

The Government are making the wealthy pay more. Against any year under the last Government, the wealthy are paying much higher taxes on their income, capital gains, pension contributions and spending. This week we passed clause 110 of the Finance Bill, which holds the inheritance tax threshold at £325,000.

I will just make a few comments about the Opposition amendment. We cannot take any lessons about house building from a party that reduced house building to the level of the 1920s by the time it left office and took 421,000 social houses out of circulation while the waiting lists were going up by 740,000—it is a shameful record. Labour also thinks we can make the energy industry more competitive by freezing prices, but unfortunately that will freeze investment and freeze out new entrants. I have tried in vain to find an organisation outside the Labour party that thinks the energy price freeze is in the interests of consumers. I will gladly take an intervention from anyone who can name such an organisation.

I support the living wage and helped to launch a campaign in Parliament. The Living Wage Foundation has praised the Liberal Democrat tax cut of £700 because it makes the living wage more achievable. The living wage is worked out from a net figure, so tax reductions do help. Interestingly, the Opposition amendment mentions the 10p tax rate. I would have thought they would want to bury that, as it reminds people that they doubled taxes for some of the lowest-paid people in this country. They mention vocational arrangements, and it is truly a scandal that our young people are so poorly educated that the NHS, engineers and many others have to go outside the country to get their employees. I am pleased that this Government are doing something about putting that right.

4.6 pm

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Picking up on the last point that the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) made about the 10p rate, let me add that a Labour Government introduced that in the first place. We can have lots of debates about that after the event, but obviously I do not have a lot of time to go through the issues I would want to go through.

I welcome the fall in unemployment—it would be a bit churlish of me not to do so. Obviously, I also welcome the Modern Slavery Bill, because in a modern

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day and age human trafficking is an abomination to civilised society. Of course I also welcome any help that small businesses get, although I do not think that what is being done is enough. Having said all that, the Queen’s Speech falls down because nothing is being done to construct social housing. By contrast, if Labour wins the next general election, we will probably build about 200,000 houses a year, because that is what is needed. Government Members have been debating what we did and did not do when we were in office, but let us not forget that we had to clear up an 18-year mess left by the Tories—they tend to forget that. I can remember the falling down hospitals, the closure of schools and so on, so we do not need any lessons from those guys over there on the Government Benches. Of course in 13 years we could not do everything.

One thing we should draw to the House’s attention is that purchasing power, regardless of what job someone is in, has fallen by between 5% and 6%. Schoolteachers and low-paid people in Coventry have seen a gradual erosion of the purchasing power of their wages. When people talk about the European Union and Europe, it is well worth mentioning—it has been mentioned before—that a Labour Government gave the British people a referendum on Europe for the first time. The Heath Government signed up to Europe but the Labour Government of the time went ahead and gave that referendum. Also on Europe people must remember that we had the five tests.

Obviously, I cannot speak about other issues for as long as I would wish, but I want to mention legislative changes on the regulation of taxis, which are certainly creating a lot of issues in Coventry, and up and down the country, with demonstrations yesterday. The other issue I want to raise is the situation at Coventry City football club. We were promised a Bill last year that would regulate the Football League, but that has continually stalled. A private Member’s Bill will be reintroduced to do something about that, but people in Coventry want to know why they have to spend £70 every time they want to see their football team because of the shenanigans going on between the football club and all the other parties involved. Nothing has been done to resolve that problem. May I suggest that the relevant Select Committee tries to resolve it by taking evidence? I am sorry I cannot go on any longer, as I would love to have raised a load of issues.

4.9 pm

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): The Gracious Speech represents a missed opportunity. We missed the opportunity to carry out a number of good things to revive our economy and give our people a good standard of living and the conditions they deserve, and that, as we all accept, is something that concerns the country at large.

I would have liked to see at least four things in the Gracious Speech. The first relates to jobs. It is important that people are secure in their jobs and properly remunerated, yet nothing has been done on zero- hours contracts, which are being abused by many unscrupulous employers. At the same time, despite the Government’s promises, the issue of the minimum wage

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has not been addressed. I know that the next Labour Government will confront that matter and raise the amount.

Labour has also pledged to work with the private and voluntary sectors to ensure that there is a paid job for every 18 to 24-year-old who has been claiming jobseeker’s allowance for the past 12 months or more, and for every adult over the age of 25 who has been claiming JSA for more than 24 months. That policy has been costed at £1.9 billion. Once we instigate it, it will lead to savings on other benefits.

We know that people want to work, but some are not able to do so because of high child care costs. Labour says that, to help people to work, it will allow 24 hours’ free child care for three to four-year-olds and a guaranteed access to wraparound child care through primary school. There are now 578 fewer Sure Start children’s centres and 35,000 fewer child care places. That will be changed by a future Labour Government. We believe that support for child care will help people to get back into work.

Another important issue is housing. Everyone wants a decent home in which to live, and house-building is at its lowest level since the 1920s. The previous Labour Government spent £20 billion on repairing homes, and a future Labour Government will build at least 200,000 homes by 2030, creating 230,000 construction jobs. We will also ensure that local councils have “use it or lose it” powers over developers who hold on to land with planning permission and do not build homes on it. We will also establish a help-to-build guarantee scheme to increase access to finance for small builders.

Rising energy prices was another issue that was missing from the Gracious Speech. If Labour comes into power, we will freeze prices until 2017. All of the issues I have mentioned should be addressed.

4.12 pm

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): The last Queen’s Speech before the general election should have shown that the Government were listening to what ordinary people want. Instead, we had a speech that seemed to be geared more towards allowing Government Members plenty of time to go off campaigning for their own jobs than it was to helping 380 of my constituents who are long-term unemployed, which is an increase of almost 600% in the past two years. It was a speech that talked about charges for plastic carrier bags, but not about helping those people who are struggling to afford the food to put in them.

The lack of action by this Government to tackle inequality was particularly notable. This is a Government who have helped the rich get richer while allowing the incomes of ordinary working people to fall by £1,600 a year. The Office for National Statistics recently published research showing that the wealthiest 10% of households owned 44% of the country’s total wealth, while the least wealthy 50% owned just 9% between them. That research also showed that the north-east has the lowest average household wealth—not even half as much as the south-east. Such deep inequality has been shown time and again to be a drag on the economy. One of the most effective ways to tackle that is by rebalancing our economy to create more jobs and wealth in our regions, particularly in the north-east.

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Do not get me wrong, Mr Deputy Speaker, the north-east does not need any special treatment or sympathy; that is not what I am after. It is full of people who are highly motivated to work, who have world-leading skills and new and exciting ideas. It has bags of potential, particularly in low-carbon technology and other skilled manufacturing. In fact, only last week, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Business Secretary came to the fabulous new Rolls Royce factory in my constituency to see that for themselves. I am not sure whether they had time to go for a pint together afterwards, but I would have been more than happy to recommend one of Washington’s excellent pubs.

What the north-east needs is a fair crack of the whip. So far under this Government regional development funding has been skewed towards the already prosperous London and the south-east and, sadly, nothing in this Queen’s Speech changes that.

Another way to make our society more equal and more prosperous is by harnessing the potential of women, which means addressing the unaffordability and unavailability of child care. Instead of taking action in this Parliament to address their record of spiralling costs, plummeting availability and cuts to support through tax credits, all the Government could muster in their final Queen’s Speech was the promise of something to come in a year’s time. Parents everywhere will therefore welcome the calls for more free child care for working parents outlined in the Opposition amendment. All I can say is thank goodness this will be the last Queen’s Speech from this Government.