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more alarming increase in youth unemployment. There is now a demand, clearly expressed by families up and down Britain, for a real plan for jobs and growth in next month’s Budget.
We also need the Government to make different choices to help families who are feeling increasingly squeezed in these tough times. If we are indeed in this together, why have the Prime Minister and the Chancellor chosen to hit hard-working families with children, who will lose an average of £4,000 a year from policies coming into effect this April? If we add to that the high cost of food, fuel, rents and so on, it seems that some are more in it than others. My constituents in Inverclyde need a Budget for jobs and growth to boost the economy—a fair Budget to ensure that families on low and middle incomes do not bear the heaviest burden in these difficult times.
I shall focus on two aspects. First, the proposed changes to eligibility for working tax credits will hit hardest many parents in part-time work. People who are responsible for at least one child and working at least 16 hours a week can get working tax credit, but from 6 April the rules for couples with at least one child change. In most cases, to qualify for working tax credit, they will need to work at least 24 hours a week jointly, with one working at least 16 hours a week. If only one of the couple works, they must work at least 24 hours a week. Working tax credit for couples to whom neither situation applies will stop from 6 April.
In my constituency, 185 households containing 365 children stand to lose out from that proposal, which will penalise parents who are working and trying to do the right thing, but who cannot increase their working hours at a time when the economy is flatlining and unemployment is rising. Few employers are currently offering an increase in part-time work hours. The change to tax credit is unfair and damaging and should be cancelled before it makes matters even worse for those hard-working parents. The Chancellor could use the hundreds of millions of pounds that the Government have said could be raised by closing a stamp duty tax avoidance loophole on properties worth more than £1 million. That would resonate as fair with my constituents and go some way to convincing them that we are in this together and paying for it equally together.
Secondly, the Government need urgently to review the planned changes to child benefit, as a result of which around 1.5 million families will effectively lose their child benefit. Surely it cannot be fair that a two-earner family on £42,000 each—a total of £84,000—will keep their child benefit, but a single-earner family on £43,000 will lose out. The Opposition support the principle of universal child benefit, but if the Government are determined to make changes, can they not be made more fairly and in a better and more workable way?
Hitting families with the two changes I have outlined will unfairly reduce their living standards. The changes were rashly and hurriedly announced last year. The feeling is that Ministers have clearly not thought through the consequences. Many thousands of parents on low and middle incomes face losing a huge proportion of that income at a time when every penny counts. Bizarrely, far from the Government making work pay, many parents could find that they are better off on benefit. That makes no economic sense at all.
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George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): We are tonight invited by the Opposition to join them in sympathising with the squeezed middle. Of course, that is Labour’s cynical project to identify itself with the people hardest hit by the crisis with which it left us. It seems to be the Opposition’s only policy. In the absence of any serious consideration of the crisis for which they are responsible, they now posture as the only people who feel the public’s pain. That is utterly cynical, and we have seen and heard tonight how little truck the House has with that view.
The truth is that we are all being squeezed, but not for the reasons the Opposition set out. The shadow Chief Secretary, in hysterical tones, accused Government Members of indulging in reckless and heartless cuts. We are being squeezed by the actions of a responsible coalition, which was invited by the country to tackle a national emergency. We need to remember the scale of the crisis we inherited, the effect on living standards, which we are all feeling, and the steps the Government have taken.
Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways the Government could help to improve living standards is by creating an environment in which private sector businesses can grow, employ more people and, potentially, give them pay rises when they do well?
George Freeman: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I could not agree more. We need to rebalance the economy and realise that every pound spent here is a pound that has to be earned by businesses and the people who work for them.
The truth is that we inherited £1 trillion of debt—£25,000 for every man, woman and child in the country—and a situation in which £1 out of every £4 of Government expenditure had to be borrowed. We had debt interest payments of £120 million a day, and debt interest would have risen to £76 billion per annum over the Parliament had we not tackled the deficit. Yes, there was an international credit crunch, but it was the actions of the Labour Government that led us into a position of extreme vulnerability. They inherited a golden legacy in 1997 after the previous Conservative Government had had to put the country through a painful and difficult period. It was a golden legacy that, after two years, they set about—
After two years of sticking to the previous Administration’s prudence, the Labour Government set about the biggest spending spree in peacetime history, but because of their cynical promise to the electorate not to increase income tax, they set about a series of other measures: they sold the gold at the bottom of the market; they launched an unprecedented programme of indirect stealth taxes, which we are still feeling today; they bungled the regulation of the Bank of England—apparently planned in the back of a taxi by the former Prime Minister—which led to an explosion of cheap credit and the very crony capitalism that they
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accuse us of; they created an out-of-control boom that led to the very bust they promised to prevent for ever; and they set about, quite deliberately, a massive public sector expansion without the necessary structural reforms to make it sustainable. Unless we had tackled the deficit, we would have left the country facing the possibility of rising interest rates, triggering a massive and serious depression.
In truth, the squeeze is being felt not just by the middle but by the young and old in this country. Every child has £25,000 of debt and a mountain to climb. Every middle-income family—in more and more of them, every man and woman has to work to pay their way—will face a tidal wave of taxes, a rising cost of living and the ticking time bomb of inflation if we do not keep the deficit under control. Our elderly have been let down by the previous Government, who promised so much and delivered so little. They are now facing an NHS structurally unable to meet the challenges of the ageing population that depends on it.
The coalition Government have set out to tackle this legacy fairly, with great rigor and in a way that is progressive—meaning with the intention of driving social mobility and helping people to break out of Labour’s dependency culture through serious reforms to welfare and education. I want to cite several things that have been done that future generations will look back on kindly: the targeting of child benefit on the most needy; the raising of personal allowances, taking 1 million people out of tax and handing money back to 25 million of our poorest families; the freezing of council tax; the uprating of pensions and the triple lock, which will be worth £15,000 to the average pensioner family; and the protection of cold weather payments. The Labour party should hang its head in shame for coming here and posturing on behalf of the people who are paying the price of their irresponsibility.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): There is a general acceptance in the House that if we are to increase living standards, it has to be done through economic growth. Apart, perhaps, from the Green party, which appears not to consider economic growth desirable, there is a recognition that it is the way forward, although there is considerable debate about how we do that.
I say to the Government Front-Bench team that I cannot understand why our triple A rating will not be affected by huge borrowing to pay for the unemployed, but would be affected if we borrowed for projects that showed an economic return—for some reason financial markets would apparently take a dim view of that. When we consider how to get out of the current problem, we must think about growth, spending and borrowing in those terms.
If we consider the sources of the increase in living standards over the past years—the Institute for Fiscal Studies has looked at the past 40 years—we see that the biggest contribution has come from the increase in economic activity rates, particularly those increases resulting from bringing women into the workplace and work force. If we are going to increase economic activity rates, including among young people in Northern Ireland, 44% of whom are not economically active—there are various reasons for that, one of them being the huge rise in youth unemployment—there has to be economic
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growth to create jobs and attract people from inactivity into economic activity. There is an important message for Labour Members from that, because it will mean having to implement some of the welfare reforms that the Government are introducing. Those reforms are good, because they give people the incentive to work. However, there is no point introducing such reforms if there are no opportunities open for people, which is why economic growth and job creation are so important.
The second thing that the Institute for Fiscal Studies identified as being associated with rising living standards over recent years is tax credits. The point has been expressed well this evening, so I will not dwell on it, but if tax credits are so important, I have to say that I find it very odd that, at a time when jobs are short and hours are being cut, the Government should think that it is a step forward to take tax credits away from people who cannot find extra hours in the week to work, even though they want to, or that this will help with current living standards.
The last point I want to make is this. One of the big things that has affected people’s living standards is increasing energy bills. Indeed, it is a bit bizarre that we should be debating this motion after the previous one. We have been encouraging the Government to pursue and invest further in the most expensive form of energy available, namely wind power. Those high-cost energy sources have already added 20% to energy bills, and the previous Government’s predictions, as well as the current Government’s predictions, are that by 2020 they will add 43%, thus increasing costs and reducing living standards.
Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): Sitting in this debate on living standards has taken me back to the campaign trail in 2010, when I was explaining to my constituents—as I am sure many of us were—that the problems that we would be inheriting from the then Government were long-term problems, and unfortunately there were no short-term solutions to those problems.
I represent a constituency where unemployment was above the national average even in the so-called boom period of the last Labour Government. Unemployment has gone up, and I am sure that both the Government’s proposed changes highlighted in the motion will impact on many people in my constituency. What guides me and this coalition Government, and what enables us to look the British people in the eye, is that we are taking steps that will be better for our country’s future generations. They are steps that will alleviate the burden on the next generation of children and on our grandchildren. We do not think that it is appropriate to pass on debts to cascade down the generations; we think it is right to cascade down opportunity, which is something that the last Government failed to do.
There are two things that I would like my hon. Friend the Minister to comment on when she sums up. First, when it comes to the long-term solutions, I hope that she will maintain a commitment to ensure that work must pay. That is incredibly important—in reality, the cultural idea that it is easier to live off benefits arose under the last Government. As with the benefit cap and their work on tax thresholds, this Government have to
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demonstrate that they are committed to the notion that everyone, given the opportunity to work, will always be better off working than on benefits.
The second thing that is important to living standards, but which we have not really touched on—my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) mentioned it briefly—is the importance for this Government of keeping inflation low. We heard some Opposition Members say that inflation is continuing to rise, but we have not yet confronted the question of what will happen when this period of quantitative easing comes to an end. When that happens, there will be a corresponding rise in interest rates, which will put further pressure on living standards. I should say to my hon. Friend the Minister that in three or four years’ time, it is unlikely that the private or public sector will be able to pay working people pay increases. We therefore have to ensure that when we unwind quantitative easing, we do it in a way that is not inflationary, or that at least minimises the inflationary impact.
One way of doing that is to look at quantitative easing not as a way of providing short-term stimulus—many Government Members are sceptical about the Government’s ability to stimulate the economy in the short term—but as a means of long-term infrastructure investment. We have that opportunity, but we can do that only if we take our understanding of our debt obligations to embrace not only the treaty debt but the debt obligations of our public pensions liabilities. Those are long-term liabilities, and there is an opportunity for the Government to use quantitative easing for investment, if they can match their investment in long-term assets with reductions in those long-term liabilities.
The only other option for a short-term stimulus—to invest to improve living standards in the short term—would involve significant tax cuts, matched or exceeded by further cuts in public expenditure to pay for them. I doubt that the Opposition intended that to form part of the debate today, but it is one option that they could look into in the short term. My main messages to those on my Front Bench are that they should keep their focus on the fact that long-term problems require long-term solutions, and that they should ignore the representations from the Opposition.
Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): This debate is an example of how the Government’s thirst for cuts—any cuts—has blinded them to the basic foolishness of the policies that they are pursuing. Even when their cuts are demonstrably ineffective, counter-productive and unfair, they plough ahead with them because they cannot countenance any alternative. The hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) has just said that it would be unfair to pass on the deficit to future generations, but the Government are, by their own admission, borrowing £158 billion more because of their failure to get growth into our economy. The question is not whether we have a deficit; it is about the best way to pay it off.
Anyone who understands anything about this Government will recognise that deficit reduction is their primary priority. However, their proposed changes to working tax credit will not move them one penny piece closer to that objective. There are 335 Chesterfield families, and 635 children, who will lose up to £4,000. There are 1,305 people in my constituency alone—working families who are trying to play by the rules and do their
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bit—who are having the rug pulled out from under their feet. Yet this policy, which will have a huge impact on working families across Britain, will be defunct by 2013, when universal credit comes in. It will therefore not move the Government any nearer to their target of eradicating the deficit by 2016, or 2017—whatever the moving goalpost.
More working people will be forced to give up work and to rely on benefit, which is the polar opposite of what the Minister wants to achieve. These changes will lead to parents being £728 a year better off out of work than staying in work without the tax credits. Why would a Government who support marriage and the family introduce harsh fiscal measures that are likely to put more pressure on those families who stay together? The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has stated that 78% of its 410,000 members working in retail cannot get extra hours at work.
The Government’s policy of cutting child benefit for higher rate taxpayers is entirely chaotic, as has been exposed by several Members. If two members of the same family earn £42,000 each, that family will keep its child benefit, but a single parent on £43,000 will lose theirs. About 170,000 families could increase their net income if an individual in the family managed to lower their pre-tax income to just below the higher rate tax threshold. The policy creates a perverse disincentive to success, and it is wholly anti-aspirational. It is unbelievable that a Conservative Government should introduce such a policy.
In the few moments that I have left, I should also like to make the case for the principle of universality in the system. Beveridge’s principle for the welfare state was that it should be a contributory system. Of course, some will receive more than others, based on their need. That is absolutely right, but the idea that we are all entitled to basic support such as child benefit, the state pension and the winter fuel allowance is a good one. At a time of ever-increasing resentment from those who pay taxes towards those who get benefits, stoked up by the Government and some of their friends in the right-wing media, we should all be fighting hard to protect the universal principle.
The Chancellor recognises that people on £43,000 a year earn more than the average, and he therefore thinks that people will perceive them to be loaded. Let me tell him that someone on that income with three children and living in a four-bedroom house is not loaded. They have to watch what they spend. They worry about the cost of fuel and about their energy bills. They see prices going up while their income stagnates. The Chancellor is making a huge mistake if he does not recognise that. We are debating the policies of a Government who have failed to get growth back into the economy and who are bringing forward illogical proposals that will make the situation worse.
James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con):
It would be fair to say that the Government have had to make a number of very tough choices as a result of the economic and financial situation they inherited from the previous Government. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) pointed out, this is not a question of the squeezed middle: we are all facing difficult times as a result of the difficult financial situation
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to which the Government have to face up—and they are facing up to it clearly. At the same time, they are making an effort to balance those tough decisions with decisions that are focused on fairness.
As other hon. Members have pointed out, the decision to provide the means for local authorities to freeze council tax is a measure that assists fairness and helps people on middle incomes who are struggling to keep control of one of the most important taxes they have to pay. Local authorities up and down the country—Conservative and Labour authorities—should accept the council tax freeze as an important component of their budgetary decisions.
As a result of other coalition Government decisions, we are able to live in a low interest rate environment, which is keeping mortgage rates low and allowing householders to continue to function and to continue to live in their homes without fear of repossession. That is a crucial achievement of the Government.
It is right, too, that the coalition Government have the ambition to take people on low incomes out of tax altogether. The Chancellor has taken significant steps in that direction in the recent Budget, and I urge the Front-Bench team to take further steps to take people out of tax altogether.
Although Labour Members seldom mention it, we have seen a substantial increase in the state pension as a result of decisions taken by the coalition Government. The triple lock—as I say, not much mentioned by Labour —guarantees a substantial increase in the state pension, which is relieving pressure on pensioners across Britain. That is something to be applauded.
Let me deal with the broad subject of tax credits. I see the shadow Chancellor in his place and he was one of the key architects of the previous Government’s tax credit policy. I know that tax credits have a role to play in certain areas, but one of the downsides of the policy is that it tends to focus on poverty alleviation as being something to do with income transfer. Clearly, that is important, but the coalition Government are doing something else, which is also significant. In his recent review of poverty, the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who is not in his place said that we need to tackle some of the underlying causes of poverty, which goes beyond income transfer. What the Government have done with the pupil premium, for example, is fundamental to getting under some of the issues that cause low aspiration and create generational poverty in Britain.
Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): I have been a Member of Parliament for just over a year now, during which time I have seen the significant impact of this Government’s devastating and detrimental economic policies in my constituency. The flatlining economy has led to a 15-year high in unemployment in Oldham with over 8,000 people out of work across the borough and 12 people chasing every job. The number of women out of work is the highest since 1995, and youth unemployment is well above the regional and national averages.
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Young people at Oldham sixth-form college, which I visited on Friday, are devastated about their future. The cut in education maintenance allowance is preventing many of them from taking college courses, and because of the trebling of tuition fees, they do not know whether they can go on to university. Given the lack of available jobs, things are looking dire for them.
Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): I congratulate the hon. Lady on her first year in Parliament. In my view, the unemployment figure is the key statistic. Today the British Chambers of Commerce announced that it was likely to reach 3 million by the end of the year. Will that not have a hugely detrimental effect on living standards?
It is not just our young people who are suffering as a result of the Government’s economic mismanagement. Last month, Oldham’s first borough-wide food bank was set up to help struggling residents who are finding themselves in desperate economic conditions—not just homeless people, but people in work.
My constituents are being squeezed every which way, experiencing increases in outgoings as a result of higher energy costs and food prices while the incomes of most people—unless they are bankers—remain the same. As we have heard, the Halifax and Royal Bank of Scotland are raising their standard variable mortgage rates, which will mean increasing problems with repossessions. We have already discussed the working tax credit changes that will affect 650 families and 1,500 children in my constituency.
These are ideologically driven cuts that reflect the Government’s desire for a United States-style welfare system. Health care is not the only welfare pillar under threat. The Government’s skilful media machine hoped that using the language of the blitz—a time when people were literally “all in it together”, accepting rationing of food and fuel regardless of where they were on the social spectrum—would whip up nostalgia and reassure people that the protective safety net in which we all invest through our taxes and national insurance, and to which we all have access if we need it, would keep them safe. Well, it is not doing so.
Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): Let me begin by thanking everyone who has taken part in the debate. It is clear from the level of interest that has been shown, the number of Members who have spoken, and the number who were not able to do so that we were right to raise these issues in the House today.
We heard passionate speeches on behalf of constituents from my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier). We also heard thoughtful contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore), for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins), for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) and for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams)—and, indeed, from the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), although I began to be worried about
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the number of occasions on which he seemed to be agreeing with the Labour party. Unfortunately, we also heard some of the same old rhetoric from, predominantly, Tory Members. It is time that the Government took responsibility for what is happening on their watch.
We heard from Members what their constituents tell them. We heard, for instance, that it is not simply a case of being able to secure an extra few hours for those who are on 16-hour contracts. We did not hear from Ministers where those extra hours were to come from, although they were pressed on the issue. We heard the views of charities such as the Child Poverty Action Group and organisations such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and those of trade unions, particularly the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. We heard about the difficulties experienced by people who are already on low incomes and are trying to make ends meet, while fearing what will happen when their working tax credit is cut.
It is sad that we heard that same tired, out-of-touch rhetoric from many Government Members. It just shows that they do not understand what it is like for families who are trying to make ends meet while facing problems such as ever-rising prices. Some Government Members are shaking their heads. Let me deal with a few of the points made by the Exchequer Secretary in his opening speech. He seemed to suggest that it was reasonable for couples to work 24 hours rather than single parents working 16 hours, but, as I said earlier, he did not give us any indication of where those extra hours were to come from. In response to an intervention, it was suggested that people could simply change jobs and that there are always jobs out there. We Opposition Members are concerned about unemployment, and we would like to know where those jobs are now, and where they are going to come from—and I suggest that Government Members should try explaining that to the millions of people who are already out of work.
It was also suggested that the raising of the personal allowance was going to make a big difference. I gently say to those who made that point that people who are working 24 hours or fewer on the minimum wage will not benefit from that, and that this measure does not serve as an argument for cutting the working tax credits of people on low incomes.
The Exchequer Secretary and others used the word “fairness”; indeed, he suggested that it was at the heart of everything he did—and he said that with a straight face, which I found astonishing given what the Government are doing. Far from everyone being in this together, people cannot understand why David Cameron and George Osborne have chosen to give the banks a tax cut at the same time as their Budget measures are hitting women harder than men and are pushing up child poverty.
We heard during the course of the debate that families with children are set to lose an average of £580 a year from policies coming into effect this April alone. Some Government Members may think that £580 is not much money, as for them it may merely mean cutting back on a few luxuries, but for ordinary families in ordinary houses in ordinary streets in the cities, towns and villages Opposition Members represent, £580 may well make the difference between those families being able or not being able to pay their electricity or gas bill, or buy shoes for their children, or ensure that they can go on
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the school trip. That sum may be what enables them to provide a decent standard of living—not luxuries, but the necessities of family life.
Next month’s Budget must pass two tests: on jobs and growth, it must boost our economy and put in place the long-term reforms that we need; and on fairness, it must ensure that families on low and middle incomes do not bear the heaviest burden. The Government have not explained how it can be fair that working families on the lowest incomes who are trying to do the right thing are going to lose out.
I repeat our call for a plan for jobs and growth in the Budget, and I look the Economic Secretary in the eye and ask her whether she will press the Chancellor to think again on the changes to tax credits and child benefit, which will cost families with children up to £4,000 per year. Will she urge him to abandon the changes in eligibility for working tax credits that are set to hammer hundreds of thousands of parents in part-time work by up to £74 per week and put them in a situation where work will not pay? Will she say to both her constituents and mine that the Government will pull back from the plan under which, from April, couples who have children and who are earning less than about £17,700 will need to increase the number of hours they work from a minimum of 16 hours to 24 hours per week, or they will lose all their working tax credits? Will she say how she will create the fairness that her colleague, the Exchequer Secretary, talked about? If she believes people should be better off in work, how can she support a change that will penalise about 275 families in her constituency who are working and trying to do the right thing, but who cannot increase their working hours at a time when the economy is flatlining and unemployment is rising? Does she agree that this unfair and damaging change could, and should, be cancelled? We want a straight answer to that question from her.
Cathy Jamieson: I apologise, Mr Speaker. I am afraid I got carried away in the heat of the moment. I should have asked whether the Economic Secretary will press the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to review urgently their planned changes to child benefit, which are unfair, unworkable and ill thought through.
As we have heard time and again in this debate, it cannot be right that a two-earner family each earning £42,000—a total of £84,000—would keep all their child benefit, but a single-earner family on £43,000 would lose it all at a stroke. When the Exchequer Secretary was asked to explain that, he seemed to indicate that it was a bit of a challenge, but he did not say how he was going to solve it and how he would remove that burden from the poorest. The Government should put the implementation of their child benefit cuts on hold and conduct an urgent review that will report before their changes come into effect next January.
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put this Government under pressure, although we have done both those things; we did so because we want the Government to listen. We want them to stop what they are doing, to re-examine the issues and to come back with a fairer alternative. There now seems to be some dispute at the heart of the Government; I listened to what was said in questions earlier today, when I heard the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions seem to blame the Treasury, and reports tonight suggest that No. 10 and the Treasury are at odds over this. The Government’s own internal brief is for them to sort out, but either way the problem is of their own making. Perhaps they thought they would get away with it —although, again, we are hearing reports tonight that perhaps the Chancellor never really intended to implement these changes but the problems in the economy mean he is now not able to back away from them. If the Government do not listen today and they fail to act, they will be confirming that they are out of touch and that they have no understanding of the realities of life for families. There are families up and down the country who simply will not forgive them.
The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Miss Chloe Smith): I thank hon. Members for their contributions to what has, on the whole, been an insightful debate. We have heard from the hon. Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), my hon. Friends the Members for Witham (Priti Patel), for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) and for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris), the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) and, indeed, my fellow by-election winners, the hon. Members for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) and for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie), whom I very much welcome to this House.
I note that today’s motion is deficient, in that it gives the wrong date for the Budget—I wonder whether that reflects the Opposition’s grasp of detail when they want to spend and borrow an extra £12 billion. It is no surprise that they do not wish to talk about how to bring the deficit “down”, as mentioned in the third line of their motion. They also said nothing about lone parents. Do they not care about the single mums and dads? No, there was not a word for them and the fairness of their already having to work 16 hours a week.
Miss Smith: No, I shall not, because we have had plenty of time to hear from Labour Members. I must press on. We all know that, in these tough times, families across the UK are tightening their belts, managing pay freezes or worse, and coping with ongoing economic uncertainty. Many families are confronting falling living standards because of the dire economic situation we inherited. The Opposition want to keep on spending and keep piling on the debt, but we refuse to burden our children and mortgage the country’s future with their profligacy.
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Tackling the deficit is the vital precondition for a sustainable recovery, underpinning private sector confidence to support growth and job creation. It is right and fair that we tackle the deficit now, as a foundation for prosperity. It is because of our decisiveness that we have secured record low gilt yields, which feeds through to record low and stable interest rates that make a real difference to families paying their mortgages and to refinancing business loans right across the country.
If we are going to discuss a squeeze on living standards, let us talk about what a rise in market interest rates would mean for families across the UK. It would force taxpayers to find an extra £21 billion in debt interest payments; it would increase the cost of business loans by £7 billion; and it would add £10 billion to mortgage bills every year, or an extra £1,000 for the average family—and that with just a 1% rise. Let me remind the House that when we took office, our rates were tracking those of the likes of Spain and Italy, but now they are close to those of Germany. That is because of the tough decisions we have taken.
According to the shadow Chancellor, who, as ever, cannot be quiet, low interest rates are a sign of trouble. He would rather have higher interest rates, a bigger squeeze on families and an even bigger fall in living standards.
The simple truth is that the Opposition have no credible response to the economic challenges that this country faces, which is why we must never return the keys to those who crashed the car. It is we who have the answers to tackling the deficit and securing our prosperity. I know that for many families, however, these are tough times. That is why we have taken substantial steps to protect living standards and to ensure we support our poorest and most vulnerable families. That is why we secured the largest ever cash rise in the basic pension and why we uprated working age benefits by 5.2%, protecting the real incomes of the poorest. We are taking the same approach as we reform our welfare system, targeting support where it is needed most.
Tackling the deficit in a fair way means that we have to ensure that tax credits are targeted at our poorest and most vulnerable families, unlike the path taken by the previous Government, who spent more than £150 billion on tax credits and let nine out of 10 families be eligible for them. That is a staggering, untargeted and unsustainable level of spending and it is right and fair that we should reform it.
Let me turn to the working tax credit. It is not fair that a couple with children can claim the credit if one partner works 16 hours, whereas a lone parent has to pull in the same time on their own. Increasing the working hour requirements for a couple is entirely fair. It is right that they should put in more hours than a lone parent before receiving the working tax credit. That also creates a clear work incentive signal, which many Members have sought in this debate, to potential second earners who could benefit from tax credits if they moved into work or increased their hours—and hours are available. Let me answer this one. In the
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quarter to January, there were 11,000 vacancies across the economy, meaning that 1 million people moved into work. That paves the way for the principles of universal credit because work must pay.[Official Report, 6 March 2012, Vol. 541, c. 9MC.]
At the same time, we are right to reform child benefit to target it towards those families who need it the most, rather than millionaires. I fully understand that it is a vital income boost, but it comes at a substantial cost to the Exchequer, including more than £2 billion a year in payments to higher rate taxpayers. It is right that we should refocus resources where we need them most, and that means taking the tough decision to withdraw child benefit from families with a higher rate taxpayer, because it is simply not fair that working parents on low incomes should subsidise child benefit for millionaires.
None of these points ignores the fact that across the board, we know that this will be a tough year for households. That is why we have gone even further to support families and businesses across the country, limiting the increases to Transport for London and regulated rail fares and funding South West Water to enable it to cut bills by £50 a year for households that face the highest water bills in the country. We are helping pensioners, setting aside an extra £675 million for local authorities in England that freeze or reduce their council tax, deferring the fuel duty increase that was due to take effect on 1 January to August this year and cancelling the further increase for August. As a result, tax on petrol will be a full 10p lower than it would have been under the shadow Chancellor’s plans, meaning families with the average family car will save £144.
As we fix the failures of the past and repair our economy, we are committed to supporting families across the country. It is a tough challenge to ensure and secure our economic stability and to lay the foundations for sustainable growth, but in our determination to do so and to restore the economic prosperity of this country, we will put fairness at the heart of our recovery. We are protecting living standards for the poorest and most vulnerable families by lifting millions out of tax, taking steps to reduce the cost of living and refocusing welfare on those who need it most. Yes, that means that those on the highest income will bear the heaviest burden as we pull together to tackle the deficit, but it is right that those who can contribute the most should do so. A fair and sustainable recovery demands leadership, and that is what this Government are providing.
The House divided:
Ayes 220, Noes 284.
Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob
Allen, Mr Graham
Anderson, Mr David
Bain, Mr William
Balls, rh Ed
Barron, rh Mr Kevin
Beckett, rh Margaret
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Betts, Mr Clive
Blears, rh Hazel
Blunkett, rh Mr David
Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben
Brown, rh Mr Nicholas
Brown, Mr Russell
Buck, Ms Karen
Byrne, rh Mr Liam
Campbell, Mr Alan
Campbell, Mr Ronnie
Chapman, Mrs Jenny
Clarke, rh Mr Tom
Clwyd, rh Ann
Cooper, rh Yvette
Crausby, Mr David
Cunningham, Mr Jim
David, Mr Wayne
Davidson, Mr Ian
De Piero, Gloria
Denham, rh Mr John
Dobson, rh Frank
Doran, Mr Frank
Eagle, Ms Angela
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Field, rh Mr Frank
Flint, rh Caroline
Francis, Dr Hywel
Glindon, Mrs Mary
Godsiff, Mr Roger
Goggins, rh Paul
Hain, rh Mr Peter
Hamilton, Mr David
Hanson, rh Mr David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr Tom
Healey, rh John
Hepburn, Mr Stephen
Hodgson, Mrs Sharon
Hood, Mr Jim
Howarth, rh Mr George
Johnson, rh Alan
Jones, Mr Kevan
Jones, Susan Elan
Jowell, rh Tessa
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Khan, rh Sadiq
Lewis, Mr Ivan
Love, Mr Andrew
MacShane, rh Mr Denis
Marsden, Mr Gordon
McCann, Mr Michael
McCrea, Dr William
McFadden, rh Mr Pat
McGuire, rh Mrs Anne
McKenzie, Mr Iain
Meacher, rh Mr Michael
Meale, Sir Alan
Miliband, rh Edward
Morris, Grahame M.
Mudie, Mr George
Murphy, rh Mr Jim
Murphy, rh Paul
Raynsford, rh Mr Nick
Reed, Mr Jamie
Riordan, Mrs Linda
Robinson, Mr Geoffrey
Roy, Mr Frank
Ruddock, rh Dame Joan
Sharma, Mr Virendra
Sheerman, Mr Barry
Skinner, Mr Dennis
Slaughter, Mr Andy
Smith, rh Mr Andrew
Spellar, rh Mr John
Straw, rh Mr Jack
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry
Thomas, Mr Gareth
Timms, rh Stephen
Umunna, Mr Chuka
Watts, Mr Dave
Weir, Mr Mike
Whiteford, Dr Eilidh
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Winnick, Mr David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Woodward, rh Mr Shaun
Wright, Mr Iain
Tellers for the Ayes:
Phil Wilson and
Amess, Mr David
Bacon, Mr Richard
Baron, Mr John
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Beresford, Sir Paul
Bone, Mr Peter
Brake, rh Tom
Brazier, Mr Julian
Browne, Mr Jeremy
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Buckland, Mr Robert
Burley, Mr Aidan
Burns, rh Mr Simon
Burrowes, Mr David
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair
Carswell, Mr Douglas
Chope, Mr Christopher
Clappison, Mr James
Clark, rh Greg
Coffey, Dr Thérèse
Cox, Mr Geoffrey
Davey, Mr Edward
de Bois, Nick
Djanogly, Mr Jonathan
Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen
Duncan, rh Mr Alan
Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain
Dunne, Mr Philip
Evennett, Mr David
Foster, rh Mr Don
Fox, rh Dr Liam
Francois, rh Mr Mark
Garnier, Mr Edward
Gauke, Mr David
Gibb, Mr Nick
Goodwill, Mr Robert
Grant, Mrs Helen
Gray, Mr James
Grayling, rh Chris
Greening, rh Justine
Gyimah, Mr Sam
Hague, rh Mr William
Hammond, rh Mr Philip
Hancock, Mr Mike
Harper, Mr Mark
Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan
Heath, Mr David
Herbert, rh Nick
Hoban, Mr Mark
Hollobone, Mr Philip
Holloway, Mr Adam
Howarth, Mr Gerald
Hughes, rh Simon
Huhne, rh Chris
Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy
Jackson, Mr Stewart
Jenkin, Mr Bernard
Jones, Mr David
Jones, Mr Marcus
Kennedy, rh Mr Charles
Knight, rh Mr Greg
Laws, rh Mr David
Lee, Dr Phillip
Leech, Mr John
Letwin, rh Mr Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian
Lidington, rh Mr David
Lilley, rh Mr Peter
Main, Mrs Anne
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick
Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew
Moore, rh Michael
Mundell, rh David
Newmark, Mr Brooks
Nuttall, Mr David
O'Brien, Mr Stephen
Offord, Mr Matthew
Paice, rh Mr James
Pickles, rh Mr Eric
Poulter, Dr Daniel
Prisk, Mr Mark
Raab, Mr Dominic
Randall, rh Mr John
Redwood, rh Mr John
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, rh Mr Andrew
Robertson, Mr Laurence
Ruffley, Mr David
Russell, Sir Bob
Sanders, Mr Adrian
Scott, Mr Lee
Shapps, rh Grant
Shepherd, Mr Richard
Simpson, Mr Keith
Smith, Miss Chloe
Smith, Sir Robert
Soames, rh Nicholas
Spencer, Mr Mark
Streeter, Mr Gary
Swayne, rh Mr Desmond
Swire, rh Mr Hugo
Tapsell, rh Sir Peter
Timpson, Mr Edward
Turner, Mr Andrew
Tyrie, Mr Andrew
Vara, Mr Shailesh
Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa
Walker, Mr Charles
Walker, Mr Robin
Wallace, Mr Ben
Whittingdale, Mr John
Wilson, Mr Rob
Wollaston, Dr Sarah
Yeo, Mr Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Noes:
Greg Hands and
Question accordingly negatived.
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Business without Debate
Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Bill (Allocation of Time)
That, at the sitting on Tuesday 6 March, proceedings on the adjourned debate on Second Reading of the Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Bill shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after their commencement at that day’s sitting.—(Jeremy Wright.)
Business of the House (7 March)
That, at the sitting on Wednesday 7 March, paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments) shall apply to the Motion in the name of Mr Nigel Dodds as if the day were an Opposition Day; proceedings on the Motion may continue, though opposed, for three hours and shall then lapse if not previously disposed of; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Jeremy Wright.)
Sittings of the House (20 March)
That on Tuesday 20 March the House shall meet at a quarter to Ten o’clock and no committees shall meet earlier than half past Three o’clock.—(Jeremy Wright.)
5 Mar 2012 : Column 685
Livingston New Town
Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): I am absolutely delighted to have secured this debate just a few weeks before Livingston’s official golden anniversary on 16 April. You, Mr Speaker, may recall that my previous Adjournment debate in the Chamber, on youth unemployment in my constituency, took place at 2 o’clock in the morning, so I am pleased that at least this evening we can expect to go to bed on the same day as we got up.
I am delighted also that the Minister replying to my address is the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), who I am sure will respond in sympathetic terms, as I do not intend to be in any way partisan during my speech.
It is a great honour and privilege to represent the Livingston constituency, and, although I always remind people that the constituency consists of many more communities than just Livingston new town, I must say there is no doubt that Livingston, which is also where I live, is very much at its centre.
I want to use this evening’s debate to say a little about the history of the town and some of the major developments and milestones in its first 50 years, but I want mostly to pay tribute to some of the many individuals and groups that have contributed to Livingston’s remarkable success story.
Livingston is West Lothian’s largest town and, in the main, has become the political, industrial, social, educational and cultural hub of the whole county. Livingston is also the second-largest urban area in the Lothians, after Edinburgh, with a population of 55,000, making it the seventh largest town or city in Scotland. Yet only 50 years ago it consisted of just three tiny villages: Livingston Village, Livingston Station and Bellsquarry.
The transformation began when Livingston, on the banks of the River Almond, with its beautiful scenery including the Pentlands hills to the south and the Bathgate hills to the north, was identified as the fourth of Scotland’s five new towns, under the post-war Labour Government’s New Towns Act 1946, in large part to help ease overcrowding in Glasgow.
Livingston was officially designated a new town on 17 April 1962, and work began immediately to build the new community. The driving force behind the town’s development was the Livingston Development Corporation, more commonly known as the LDC, which was responsible for all aspects of planning and regulating the town’s growth. The LDC guided Livingston until the corporation’s mandate expired on 22 March 1997 and the town’s functions and assets transferred to the new unitary West Lothian council.
The LDC’s plan to expand the town dictated that it should grow in an orderly fashion from east to west, so, while the first new town residents were housed in the existing village of Livingston Station, the initial major housing development was built on the sloping hillside of Craigshill.
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Craigshill’s covered shopping centre, known as The Mall, was developed, and the new town’s first primary and secondary schools, Riverside primary and Craigshill high, were also built in Craigshill. Several more new developments followed in quick succession, with Howden, Ladywell, Knightsridge, Dedridge, Eliburn, Deans, Carmondean, Bankton and Murieston all becoming well known Livingston new town communities.
A key element of the LDC’s town planning and construction involved the new development being based around those neighbourhoods, each with its own schools, shops, health services and other amenities. Indeed, one of the significant, if not unique, characteristics of Livingston is its extensive segregated path network, its greenways, open spaces and tree belts, which are always well maintained and provide a rural feel to urban living. This careful planning, providing communities with the resources they needed to flourish from the outset, has been critical to Livingston’s successful growth over the years.
An early means of support for the new rapidly growing communities of Livingston were the various churches that were built to accommodate the spiritual needs of the population. Uniquely in Scotland, Livingston was, from the start, designated an ecumenical parish in a joint initiative by the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church in Great Britain and the Congregational Union of Scotland. The ecumenical parish has six places of worship. Of course, there are also churches of other denominations, notably the Catholic Church, the Baptist Church and the Free Church. More recently, Livingston mosque was established to serve the community’s growing Muslim population.
As the population grew, an ambition for further education opportunities to be provided closer to home arose, and in July 2001 the new state-of-the-art West Lothian college was opened—the first new purpose-built college in Scotland for 25 years. West Lothian college, under the current leadership of its principal Mhairi Laughlin, has an excellent academic reputation and provides thousands of residents with the opportunity to study locally rather than having to travel to Edinburgh or Glasgow. The college’s story sums up the speed of progress that was made in developing the town and just how quickly things have changed over these five decades.
Over recent years, Livingston has become synonymous with shopping, with its vast retail centre at Almondvale. Consisting of 1 million square feet of retail space and attracting 13 million shoppers each year, it is the largest regional retail centre in Scotland.
Turning to sport and culture, Livingston boasts the Lothians’ only senior football club outside the capital, following the establishment in 1995 of Livingston FC out of the old Meadowbank Thistle team. Within just seven years of moving to the purpose-built Almondvale stadium, the club had achieved third place in the Scottish premier league and qualified for the UEFA Cup. Livi, as the team is referred to by its fans, also won the 2004 League Cup, beating Hibernian at Hampden Park. People in Livingston have also shown commitment to many other sports, with Livingston rugby club, based at Almond park, being one of the first clubs established in the new town; Livingston cricket club, located at Murieston; and a plethora of other clubs accommodating almost every sport in existence.
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the venue won the prestigious Edinburgh Architectural Association “Building of the Year” award in 2010. The town also has a thriving network of cultural groups and organisations, including, to name but a few, Livingston Art Association, the Livingston Fiddlers, and the New Town Entertainers. Many older residents will remember the Livingston festival, which was initiated on the town’s 10th anniversary in 1972 and by 1981 had become the largest community festival in Scotland. This has since been replaced by local communities in the town having their own gala days.
Livingston has been fortunate in having a wide array of voluntary and charitable groups that give vital community input and that, again, are unfortunately too numerous to mention in the time available, although I put on record my appreciation for the work undertaken by the local neighbourhood networks in the town.
At the same time as the housing went up, new communities moved in and social institutions grew, industry and businesses started locating in Livingston in substantial numbers, bringing jobs and economic security to the area. The LDC prioritised attracting big employers to the town, running a simple but effective advertising slogan, “Make it in Livingston”, and emphasising the excellent transport links, highly skilled work force and good local services. Indeed, Livingston benefits significantly from its location between Edinburgh and Glasgow, with its east-west motorway and rail links, and its proximity to Edinburgh airport and the Forth bridges.
Large investments have been made in the area by local and national government, and by companies from the UK and overseas. The technology industry was one of the largest growth areas and Livingston quickly became the capital of Scotland’s silicon glen. The LDC developed Kirkton campus, a technology park, at a time when many advanced technology companies from the US and Japan were seeking an appropriate location for their European operations. Over the years, Mitsubishi Electric, Cameron Iron, which is now Wyman-Gordon, BSkyB, Gore-Tex, Schuh, NEC and Motorola, to name but a few, have chosen to locate in Livingston. Some of those major employers have unfortunately been lost over the years, particularly after the decline of the silicon glen in the early and mid-1990s, but Livingston remains a popular business destination.
What of Livingston’s most valuable resource, its people? A key characteristic of the new town’s population is the diversity of the backgrounds and experience that people have brought to Livingston. Although many of those who first moved to Livingston came from overcrowded communities in Glasgow, over the years others have been attracted from the more traditional West Lothian communities, other parts of the Lothians and even much further afield, with people seeking a new start in a new town. More recently, that has included immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and eastern Europe. Their integration has been another positive milestone in the town’s development.
Although time does not allow me to mention the many individuals who have contributed to the success of Livingston over the last 50 years, I will highlight a few notable names, including my predecessors in the constituency, all of whom have played an important
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part in the town’s history. When the town was founded in 1962, it was split between the two parliamentary constituencies of West Lothian in the north, which was represented by my good friend Tam Dalyell, and Midlothian in the south, which was represented by the late Alex Eadie. Tam and Alex played a vital role in Livingston’s early development, working closely with the LDC and the local authorities, until 1983 when, following boundary changes, the new Livingston constituency was created, encompassing the whole of the new town and the surrounding areas.
It was then that Robin Cook became the MP. He remained the local representative until his untimely death 22 years later in August 2005. The story of Robin Cook is well known to the House and I have paid tribute to him in the past. Robin was a strong advocate and defender of Livingston. Perhaps his greatest achievement locally was to persuade the Government to provide a new district general hospital in the town. In 1989, St John’s hospital was opened.
Moving on to others who deserve to be recognised for their service, I pay tribute to the lifelong Livingston Station resident, Willie Pender. After a lifetime of public service in West Lothian, Willie sadly passed away recently. He played a significant part in Livingston’s development as a member of the LDC, a long-standing Labour councillor, a member of the Lothian health board and a justice of the peace. He was also a war hero, having served in the Navy during world war two as part of the Arctic convoys and in the defence of Malta. No one is better placed to pay tribute to Willie than his close friend Tam Dalyell, who described Willie as
“having made a massive contribution in the 1960s to the 1980s to the important decisions of West Lothian Council, affecting education and every other aspect of local government”.
Another man who has made a lasting contribution to the development of Livingston is Sandy Pirie. He was the head teacher of the town’s first secondary school, Craigshill high school. He was largely responsible for establishing the school as the hub of the community, making it effectively a community school long before the concept and title were conceived formally. In addition to his pioneering educational contribution, Sandy played a prominent role in the promotion of the ecumenical, cultural and charitable life of the new town. I was fortunate enough to serve with him on the West Lothian council education services committee from 1996 to 1999, when I was council leader and he was a co-opted religious representative. We also served together on the West Lothian Educational Trust.
I want to mention a few other significant individuals—fairly briefly, unfortunately, given that time is now against me. Rev. Dr James Maitland, a Church of Scotland minister, was a strong proponent of bringing the churches closer together and a leading light in the Livingston justice and peace group. He died in 1996, and the Maitland nursery at Williamston primary school in the town is named after him.
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Raymond Birrell, also sadly now deceased, was an engineer with the LDC but also a prominent community activist, who in particular gave of his time to encourage young people to pursue an interest in music. Birrell gardens in Murieston is named in his memory. John Hoey, my good friend, was the driving force behind the development of the Craigsfarm community complex, the first free-standing community facility in the new town, and also served as a local government councillor for the area for several years.
Wilma Shearer and Roley Walton created Dedridge environment ecology project in 2007, to improve the Dedridge burn plantation and make it more accessible for community members. They have done a remarkable amount of work to improve the area over the past five years.
Manus McGuire raised his family in Livingston. He started life as a social worker, switched to law, became a partner in Thompson’s solicitors and subsequently became chairman of industrial tribunals for Scotland. David Duncan was building manager for the LDC and oversaw much of the building of the infrastructure and housing estates in the town. Jim Wyllie is the surviving member of the town’s oldest industry, the mill on the River Almond. Jim Keegan was the first solicitor advocate under the scheme that set them up and was recently appointed Queen’s counsel, and Jim Hamilton, now deceased, was a head teacher at Bellsquarry primary school and manager of the Scottish badminton team that participated at the Commonwealth games in Edinburgh and New Zealand. The public square by Murieston medical practice is named after him.
Plans are well advanced locally to celebrate Livingston’s golden anniversary. That will rightly involve the local community and its schools and voluntary groups, and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to share in the celebrations, albeit prematurely, with this Adjournment debate tonight.
Although the new town is only 50 years old, few could disagree that it has been a remarkably successful, vibrant and productive 50 years. Looking to the future, I am quite sure that the strong community spirit, great endeavour and decency of Livingston’s people, coupled with its beautiful and central location, guarantee it many more years of success. I am sure that the next 50 years will be just as fruitful as the first 50 have been.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Mundell): I congratulate the hon. Member for Livingston (Graeme Morrice) on securing the debate, which marks a significant year in the history of the community of Livingston. He mentioned my constituency, which is one of the largest in Scotland and borders his, as it does many others. He also mentioned Bristow Muldoon, under whose convenorship of the Local Government and Transport Committee I was happy to serve when I had the privilege of being a Member of the Scottish Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it was a Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland, John Maclay, who backed the plans for the development of Livingston back in the early 1960s. Livingston was designated under the New Towns Act 1946 and the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947 as one of the new towns to be built, as the hon. Gentleman said, to relieve overcrowding in Glasgow and other areas.
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Scotland’s five new towns—East Kilbride, Glenrothes, Cumbernauld, Livingston and Irvine—have added much to the fabric of our country. Their development corporations may have come and gone, with their functions transferred to local authorities, but the towns themselves have put down enduring roots. They have proved to be pacesetters in Scotland’s economic transformation in recent decades, and that has most certainly been the story of Livingston.
The hon. Gentleman has enabled us to celebrate Livingston at 50. Like many of us, Scotland’s fourth new town has moved into middle age. However, it has a lot to celebrate and even more to look forward to. It has been an eventful half century, packed full of highs and a few lows, but freshly forged spirit and community have combined to drive the town onwards and upwards. The result is that, in 2012, Livingston is firmly fixed on the national and international map as a centre for business, innovation, education, health care and sport.
Livingston was also purposely planned, which brings me to a subject that the hon. Gentleman did not mention: roundabouts. Only after the winding up of the Livingston Development Corporation in 1997 did Livingston get its first traffic lights. Roundabouts have become synonymous with new towns both north and south of the border. Residents of Livingston have referred to their town as “Roundabout City”, but roundabouts in Livingston are a bit special. Landmark sculptures designed by David Wilson in the 1990s adorn the four major roundabouts. Built from reclaimed dyking stone, NORgate, Compass, Dyke Swarm and Chrysalis have been local landmarks in their own right for more than a decade.
Over five decades, Livingston has moved and progressed on many fronts. It has grown into a community of more than 50,000 residents and enhanced its connectivity to Scotland’s road and motorway network. Its proximity to Edinburgh airport is an added attraction for businesses seeking to locate or invest in the town. It is better connected with the two railway stations—Livingston South and Livingston North were established in the 1980s, offering direct links into Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Sport has also brought success and attention to the town. As the hon. Gentleman said, the 1990s witnessed the arrival of Livingston FC and the building of Almondvale stadium, home to a team that played in European competition and won the league cup in 2004. Of course, darker days followed with the club going into liquidation, but happily for the hon. Gentleman, Livingston FC is on the up again in the first division.
Livingston has always been a leader in business. For half a century, Livingston has been at the cutting edge of innovation and technology. High-tech and pharmaceutical firms were in the vanguard of the wave of light industry attracted to Livingston from the 1960s. Some of us remember the slogans—“Make it in Livingston” and “Build it in Livingston”—of the now-departed Livingston Development Corporation, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Those slogans have become a reality down the years.
In the 1990s, Livingston was an important hub in Scotland’s silicon glen. While some companies such as Motorola and NEC have come and gone, an abundance of new businesses have arrived in their place. As well as multinational companies maintaining factories in the town, BSkyB’s main call centre is the largest private sector employer in West Lothian.
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Livingston is equipped with a modern and diverse economy. Retail and business services co-exist alongside modern manufacturing. Livingston attracts people from across central Scotland to shop, with an array of established names operating out of state-of-the-art shopping centres, which the hon. Gentleman described in detail. Livingston is also a centre for significant public sector employment. The civic centre, West Lothian college of further education and St John’s hospital illustrate the town’s importance for public administration, education and health care.
We must today wrestle with the challenge of giving a new life to a mature new town. Livingston faces the same employment challenges that confront similar communities throughout Scotland, the UK and the western world, although as the hon. Gentleman will know, the jobseeker’s allowance claimant rate is below the national average. In a fiercely competitive global marketplace, Livingston is blessed with real advantages as it seeks to secure new investment and jobs.
The town’s location, transport links and highly skilled work force are beacons for business. Livingston is still at the cutting edge of Scotland’s future. It is equipped with a modern and diverse economy, including some of the most innovative businesses in Scotland. I would like to highlight the superb example of Cyberhawk Innovations, a Livingston company that has developed unmanned helicopters that allow engineers to inspect the inner workings of tall and inaccessible structures such as oil
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installations. Founded less than four years ago, it is now expanding and exporting overseas. It is a marvellous illustration of commercialisation from Scottish engineering excellence and inventiveness. Similarly, there is Touch Bionics, a spin-out from the NHS and a world-class leader in the design and manufacture of prosthetic limbs. That is why it is showcased in the UK Government GREAT campaign to promote investment in the UK during this diamond jubilee and Olympic year.
I know that Livingston is planning to mark its golden anniversary with style. The hon. Gentleman’s debate will be a significant part of that celebration. As well as a new logo designed by schoolchildren and new trees, plenty of events, exhibitions and activities are planned around the anniversary on 17 April. It is great to see that this anniversary will be marked with specials events, with arts, music and dance the centrepieces of the celebrations next month. As Livingston reaches its golden jubilee, it can reflect on a successful past. Officially, it has not been a new town for 15 years. It has matured into an established feature of the Scottish landscape. I hope that it can look forward to a great future as a significant centre at the forefront of the Scottish and UK economies. On behalf of the UK Government, I wish Livingston all the best for its second half century.