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Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill) should not shout across the Chamber.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.

I ask the House not to forget, and to balance those ambitions for public expenditure with the knowledge that all those plans depend on the health and success of the productive sector of the economy. It is that task that the Government must tackle more energetically in this Parliament than they did in the previous one. If they do so, they will have the support of Conservative Members. If they do not, the disillusionment shown by the scandalously low turnout in the general election will become terminal.

9.46 pm

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): We have had a wide-ranging and constructive debate that has been particularly remarkable for the number and the quality of maiden speakers. I must apologise to right. hon. and hon. Members for the fact that my unavoidable commitments elsewhere prevented me from hearing so many of those speeches in person, but I look forward to reading them tomorrow with pleasure and with profit.

All of the hon. Members who made their maiden speeches today paid eloquent tribute to their predecessors, many of whom served in the House for many years. All of them also gave the House vivid descriptions of their own constituencies. In a thoughtful and wide-ranging speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) reminded us that he is one of the very few hon. Members whose way into the House was paved by a special new Act of Parliament.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) spoke about local problems and the local public services that have so dominated the recent general election.

In a witty speech--we look forward to further speeches from him--the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) spoke particularly about the need for more

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businesses to move into south Devon, which is a central preoccupation of the regional development agency in that area, as is the case elsewhere.

In very well-informed and wide-ranging speeches, my hon. Friends the Members for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen), for Aberavon (Dr. Francis) and for Telford (David Wright) all spoke about the impact of the extraordinary technological changes taking place in our economy on the industrial structure and on employment in their constituencies. They reminded us of the central importance of ensuring opportunities for every individual, regardless of background, to find and fulfil their potential not only for their own sake and that of their families and communities but for the sake of our wider economy. Opportunity for all as a route both to a dynamic economy and to a more inclusive and fair society is a central theme in the Queen's Speech.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Iris Robinson) brings to the House her experience in the Northern Ireland Assembly. She paid generous tribute to her predecessor, against whom she reminded us she has stood in various elections.

I particularly want to refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Miliband), with whom I worked so many years ago on the Commission on Social Justice. He, too, stressed--and vividly illustrated with examples from his constituency--that in the modern world, a dynamic economy and a fair society are not enemies but partners.

In a moving and personal speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) also stressed the waste of so much talent in our community and, again, the importance of extending opportunities to every individual. All of those who spoke will make a distinctive and valuable contribution to this House and I look forward very much to hearing from them on future occasions.

Before I turn in particular to the contribution of the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo), I must refer to the position of one of the United Kingdom's oldest companies, a matter that I know is of great concern to Members on both sides of the House. I am referring to one of Britain's oldest and most famous brands. Unfortunately, the company's product line is stuck in the 1980s, its consumers are ageing, its share price is falling, its boardroom is split and its chief executive has just resigned: the Conservatives plc now has to find itself a new leader.

Does the party turn to the chairman of the divided board, an aristocratic but perhaps weary potential candidate? Or does the party put its hopes in a Spanish takeover bid? That is the choice that faces the Conservatives plc. Will it be the toffs, or will it be the tapas? We look forward with great anticipation to the decision that will resolve the brand identity of the modern Conservative party.

I must thank the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) for his kind remarks about my appointment and those of my Front-Bench colleagues. I am delighted also that the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea added a fresh conversion to the list: we have seen him turn from opposition to independence for the Bank of England to full support for it. We have also seen him turn from voting against the minimum wage to supporting it, if reluctantly.

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This evening, the right hon. Gentleman has declared an astonishing conversion to support for the steps that I shall be supporting, as Minister for Women, to increase women's representation in this House. Even more astonishing, the right hon. Gentleman has brought with him the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). The hon. Gentleman is not present for this part of the debate, but I now understand that he is a convert to feminism. If I can achieve so much in a mere two weeks as the new Minister for Women, I look forward to seeing hon. Gentlemen from the Conservative party supporting the Bill that we expect to propose to enable the Conservative party, as well as our own party, to take the necessary measures to continue to deal with the under-representation of women in this House. Converts are always welcome.

I regret that Conservative Members have so little of value or strategic significance to say about how we build upon the economic stability secured over the last four years to promote enterprise and productivity. I regret that they have so little to say about how, in the modern economy, we move from an industrial base to a knowledge-driven economy, and so little to say about how we harness the talent of all our people in the service of both a more inclusive society and a more efficient and dynamic economy. I regret the fact that this evening we heard again the familiar talking down of the strengths of the British economy and the same old, and frankly tired, complaints about red tape.

I shall remind the House of what independent and authoritative observers have to say about the state of the British economy. The Economist Intelligence Unit says:

That was written before my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced last week his latest reform to capital gains tax, which will give us an even more favourable environment for entrepreneurs and investment--indeed, it will result in the provision of an even more favourable regime for capital gains taxation than in the United States.

A. T. Kearney registered the fact that the United Kingdom rose to second place on the worldwide index as a destination of choice for foreign investors and confirmed its position as the single most favoured destination by far for foreign direct investment into the European Union. The vice-president of A. T. Kearney said:

More recently, Arthur Andersen's world entrepreneurship survey rated us on a range of measures as No. 1 in the world as an environment for entrepreneurs. Those are fair measures of the success that we have already achieved in helping to create an effective environment for enterprise and investment.

The right hon. Member for Wells asked specifically about regulation. I remind him that one of the flagship measures in this year's Queen's Speech is an enterprise Bill that will bring forward radical, pro-competition reforms, including a new power for the competition authorities to scrutinise regulations for possible anti-competitive effects. That will be the next stage in

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a radical, far-reaching package of reforms to the frankly byzantine and out-of-date competition regime that we inherited from the Conservative Government.

Furthermore, the Regulatory Reform Act 2001 will give the House the opportunity and power to sweep away unnecessary, out-of-date, entangled old regulations. Quite inexplicably, Conservative Members voted against that measure. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor last week announced a radical simplification of the VAT system, a measure that will be particularly helpful to hundreds of thousands of smaller companies.

In contrast, the Conservative party has no strategic analysis of the way the modern economy is changing, or of the role of Government in a modern economy. The Government understand the changes that are taking place, which are driven by an extraordinary speed of technological change in the modern economy.

In their first four years, the Government set out to achieve the right framework for economic stability and to bring more than 1 million more people into employment. Upon that foundation of economic stability, the Government can now move to improve productivity and spread enterprise throughout our community. Upon that foundation of economic stability, we can introduce reforms to the economy that mean we will be even better placed to adapt to the change and restructuring that are taking place in an increasingly competitive global economy.

The stability that we have achieved means that we can move on to make the reforms that the country needs--to increase enterprise in every nation and every region of our country, to raise productivity and the skills of our work force to give us the most pro-competitive regime in the world, to support hard-working families and to enable opportunities to be extended to every individual.

We can do all that because we have made our choice. We set out that choice clearly in the election--it was between stability and a return to boom and bust; it was between full employment and mass unemployment; it was between investment in our future prosperity and public services or cuts in essential public services. Those cuts would have been the inevitable consequence of the utterly irresponsible promises being made by Conservative Members. Tax cuts--initially for £4 billion, then £8 billion, then £20 billion--would be paid for by public spending cuts affecting teachers, doctors, nurses and police officers.

We put a choice before the British people--

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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