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18 Nov 2002 : Column 435—continued

Mr. Bercow: I strongly agree with what the hon. Lady has just said. Does she agree that there are many examples of mobile phone operators treating local communities in which they intend to erect masts with indifference, disdain and contempt, and that if it were not for effective local lobbying and action, those companies would not be brought to book at all?

Linda Perham: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support on that matter. There have been a number of briefings from those companies, and they are certainly on the defensive. They know that local people should be kept informed, and I hope that we shall make some progress on that. I am sure that many other hon. Members have been lobbied about this; it is a serious matter, about which people care very much.

The second recommendation of the Select Committee stated:

Speed of decision making is another cause for concern addressed by the planning Green Paper. A planning application to build a racecourse in my constituency took more than a year to be decided. We must do better. There is also concern that planning reform will be focused too closely on the needs of corporations and may fail to protect the interests of vulnerable individuals. I envisage planning reform providing opportunities for innovation that will finally turn the tide of the housing crisis in London. I dearly hope that the Government will be radical—and, dare I say, bold—in their plans to help the homeless, key workers and, in London, anyone whose salary is less than #30,000 a year, as people in those circumstances have very little chance of getting on the housing ladder. There are 190 families with children currently accommodated in bed and breakfast by my borough of Redbridge. Unfortunately, at the same time, the Tory council is

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proposing to reduce drastically the density of future residential developments, at a time when homes are most urgently needed.

The Trade and Industry Committee has looked at the matter of Britain's nuclear liabilities, and I am pleased that the Government are taking seriously the need for a resolution to this issue. Nevertheless, I stand by the Committee's recommendation that there needs to be an independent inquiry into the value for money for the taxpayer in transferring those liabilities. Nuclear power is expensive and dangerous, and I am concerned that we may be asked to bail out this industry with many billions of pounds of taxpayers' money. Perhaps we should consider what would be the relative benefit if that money were invested instead in the production of renewable energy or in energy conservation. I look forward to the publication of the energy White Paper next year, and I hope that it will include non-nuclear options.

I welcome the announcement of legislation to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on hunting with dogs. I share the opinion of more than 300 of my constituents who have contacted me on the issue since my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) introduced his Bill in 1997; the only conclusion is a complete ban. Four hundred and eleven hon. Members voted in favour of that Bill. There could have been no clearer statement of the will of this House than that, and we should have concluded the issue in the last Parliament. I hope that we shall at last, and not before time, end this monstrous, barbarous and cruel practice, which masquerades as a sport.

I support the Queen's Speech and the Chancellor's robust statement of the Government's achievements and future programme. In the absence of any policies being put forward by the shadow Chancellor, the public will judge which party can best be trusted with the future of the country.

7.36 pm

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire): I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to what has already been an excellent and interesting debate. It was opened with characteristic ebullience by the Chancellor, but he seemingly has a certain amount about which to be ebullient. It would be a poor commentator on British public affairs who did not recognise that the public perception of the Labour Government and their handling of economic matters are completely different from that of previous Labour Governments. And yet, as in all classical tragedy, there is a moment at which the greatest strength can start to become the greatest weakness. At a moment of apparent control, having weathered the storms of public perception about what a Labour Government could achieve in relation to the economy, those little things that appear, on the horizon, to be no bigger than a man's hand start to take on greater and greater importance.

The Chancellor was well and successfully challenged by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) on some of those issues. Labour Members then listened to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) in a very different way from the way in which they had listened to their own Chancellor, because my right hon. and learned Friend began to drive

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home to them that this was a moment of real uncertainty for the British economy, and that all the ebullience in the world will not prevent the Chancellor from missing the problems that will come to dominate the economy.

Those problems will include not noticing that a very difficult public pay dispute that is being massaged towards some sort of a conclusion is being carefully watched by others in the public pay round. They might also include the glossing over of the problem of the very low savings ratio in this country, and not being overly concerned about the steady increase in taxation. At the moment, with all the plaudits ringing in the Chancellor's ears, those things probably seem sufficiently far down the line not to be of concern. They are all, however, matters that will come back to haunt him.

Mr. Hendrick: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) did not make one reference in his speech to the fall in equity prices that has led people to put their money into property, which has, in turn, led to the property boom and to many of the problems that we now face? Neither did the right hon. and learned Gentleman give any indication of what he would do, if he were Chancellor in a future Tory Government, to put the matter right.

Alistair Burt: I think that the record of my right hon. and learned Friend, who created the economy in which the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have enjoyed themselves so lavishly over the past few years, speaks for itself. As for the hon. Gentleman's concern about falling equity prices and people putting their money into homes, while for whatever reason there may be a housing boom, the fact that such a boom exists and is something of which the Chancellor should take serious note was the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend.

In that regard, my right hon. and learned Friend was rightly supported by the deputy governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, who said recently:

My point is that there is enough evidence of problems for the Chancellor to be more worried than his performance this afternoon suggested. I feel that his failure to act, and the absence in the Queen's Speech of the sort of action that might be needed to assist the economy, imply that the Chancellor is missing something quite significant.

Let me now move from the general to the particular, and talk about some of the factors affecting business and the economy as they apply to my constituency. I want to say something about engineering, and in this regard I am grateful to the Mid-Anglia branch of the Engineering Employers Federation for its assistance.

Engineering and manufacturing represent the silent casualty of recent years. No wonder that casualty attracted no attention from the Chancellor—although it did attract attention from the hon. Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill), whose contribution I welcomed. According to the latest survey carried out by the Mid-Anglia branch of the EEF in respect of the third quarter of 2002, 46 per cent. of firms reported a drop in total

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output volume. Output volume has been in negative balance since the first quarter of 2001. Moreover, 46 per cent. reported a decline in new orders over the past three months. Fifty per cent. said that they had reduced the number of people whom they employed, and 38 per cent. expected reduced capital expenditure in the next three to six months. They, unlike the Chancellor, are worried about where the economy may be going, and are expressing that lack of confidence.

There may be many reasons for these pressures. Our manufacturing industry does not exist in a vacuum—we are part of a global economy, and the slowdown in the economy of the European Community naturally has an effect on us—but Governments can make matters worse. It is significant that those in engineering and manufacturing to whom we speak know that some of the problems lie with the Chancellor, and with the running of the economy. It worries them that the Queen's Speech has not dealt with such matters.

Let me quote from the September 2002 issue of XEngineering Outlook", produced by the Engineering Employers Federation, which covers a wider area than my constituency.

The article looks at matters in more detail, and then states:

It concludes:

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