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Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): The Government will soon take over the presidency of the EU. Is it not also an important time for them to work out how to force the rest of Europe to recognise that the liberalisation of the energy and gas markets must be carried out across the whole of Europe? It is important to realise the distorting effects caused by the liberalisation of our market and its being attached to a market that is still under the firm control of the big suppliers.
Malcolm Bruce: The Conservatives may not like the implications, but the reality is that a Europewide energy market, if it is open and transparent, would be to our benefit. Our concern is that liberalisation is not proceeding fast enough.
I have written to the new Energy Commissioner, asking him to look further into that, as well as to the Secretary of State. I have been criticised by some people who claim that what I am saying implies a dislike of markets. I favour markets and market solutions, but there is something not quite right about this market at the moment. It has been a matter of concern to me that gas prices should automatically be determined by oil prices rather than by the actual costs of production and the fact that the market is not always the same.
I spoke a week or so ago at the annual conference of the Combined Heat and Power Association, which may not be at the top of people's agenda as the best place to speak. I have to say that I have not seen a more depressed looking audience for quite some timeand that was before I spoke. The serious point is that several billion pounds of significant investment, which could create many thousands of jobsI already know of more than one Conservative early-day motion on the subjectare currently frozen. Those funds could genuinely help us to improve industrial investment, employment and our commitment to reducing emissions.
In the past few weeks, I have had interesting meetings with a significant number of businesses in my constituency, and many specifically welcomed the consequences of EU enlargement, not least in giving them access to good-quality, hard-working labour, which has helped them meet the significant shortages that they were experiencing until recently. One enterprise in the tourism sector had employed a substantial number of Slovakian young women in an enterprising leisure facility. Those girls had come here for two fundamental reasons: to learn English, which they view as an international language that will improve their skills; and to gain more productive and better paid work experience than they could gain in Slovakia. It is important to understand that that is of real benefit.
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Prior to enlargement, this business found it extremely difficult to get exactly the sort of labour that it required and is now delighted with the quality of staff that it has been able to recruit.
I fear that debates on immigration are sometimes conducted in the House in a way that fails to emphasise the significant benefits that can accrue. It may be of interest to the House to know that the city of Aberdeen has specifically said that it believes that its economic future depends on recruiting a substantial number of the work force from the new accession countries. It has taken a positive step to promote the virtues of living and working in Aberdeen to those people. It will help the economy to be dynamic rather than run the risk of having to export jobs to where the people are. We often lose sight of that fact, which is a consequence of not being able to recruit labour here in the UK. I have heard that general complaint from many businesses in my constituency.
I mention in passing that, as a member of the plenary assembly of the Council of Europe, the UK delegation will debate in January next year the issue of trafficking from the borders of the EU, and the Balkans in particular. I believe that trafficking is too kind a word. We are talking about slavery, and people being sold, often by their families, into slavery. The exploitation of these people is vicious, and some of our more draconian immigration laws make it harder for them to break out of it. We must make it clear to people that if they have been brought here by force, they can appeal. The fear is that if they make themselves known to the authorities, they will be immediately deported without help or subsistence, so we must show that we have some sort of compassionate rescue mission to deliver people back safely to their families under terms and conditions that will prevent them from being exploited in that way again.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) made a passing reference to the British trade position, the exchange rate and the consequences of American policies. One general problem with US domestic policies is that they seem to constitute the worst excesses of left and right-wing ideologies brought together in one regime.
Malcolm Bruce: I would argue, in defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham and my own record when I was in the same post, that it is precisely not like our party, because we cost our proposals and try to demonstrate, even though it opens us up to pretty strenuous debate, how we would pay for our policies. We say what taxes we would or would not alter. What has happened in the US is that the public deficit has gone through the roof and tax cuts have been implemented that are clearly not sustainable. Yet as long as the rest of the world is prepared to support that by accepting devalued dollars, we cannot really blame the American Administration for taking advantage of it.
I would say to the Chancellor that one of the disadvantages stemming from having our own currency is the fact that it is not a very important currency. It
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certainly does not play influentially in the markets in the way that the euro currently does. There may well be an argument, as Mr. Anatole Kaletsky suggested, for the eurozone to cut interest rates in order to put inverse pressure on the dollar and perhaps also help stimulate the European economies to perform rather better.
Having attended the breakfast that the Chancellor provided for board members of Britain in Europe a couple of weeks ago, I know that he stressed the importance of the transatlantic relationship. Although I have been critical of the Bush Administration, I also support the transatlantic alliance as part of the UK's position in the world. If we have a special relationship with the US, however, it is important for the Americans to know that we also have a dimension of European co-operation and solidarity that is important to us. We should also expect Americans to take some responsibility for conducting themselves in a reasonable fashion in the world or to expect the consequences if they fail to do so.
I make no apology for mixing in some important constituency issues put to me in recent months. Indeed, debates on the Queen's Speech provide an excellent opportunity to do so. I have considerable scepticism about a Government who announce 32 Bills or draft Bills in any Queen's Speech, especially in a programme that everyone expects to be interrupted before half the Session is completed. We should acknowledge that much of the Queen's Speech is not a serious programme of legislation but a shopping list for a general election. It is frustrating to find, in seeking clarification from Departments as to which Bills will be introduced and when, that the answers become heavily caged according to political expediency.
In the few seconds left to me, I want to say that the one Bill that I am assured is likely to be introduced before Christmas is the consumer credit Bill. If that is the case, I welcome it, but I hope that the Government realise that we are talking not just about loan sharks but about shameful practices being pursued by high street banksthe biggest banks in the countryto push people into using credit and to sell them products that are much more expensive than they need be. Those banks are happy to take the excess profits that result. The legislation must deal with that problem. We should also recognise that door-to-door cash collection is not always against the interests of people on low incomes. It sometimes helps them to manage their credit, so we should not legislate that out of existence and open the way for the criminals who would inevitably step in.
Denzil Davies (Llanelli) (Lab):
It is only right and proper for the Chancellor to remind the House of his and the Government's fine record of economic stewardship over the past seven years. It compares more than favourably with most, if not all, western European countries and the Government deserve credit for it. We do not always acknowledge the external pressures of globalisation on western economies. I do not believe that our Government, western Governments or even fashionable opinion have begun to engage with the
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consequencessocial, foreign policy and economic consequencesof globalisation, despite the fact that countries such as China now dominate large sections of world trade.
Many hon. Members have always been concerned, rightly, about the effect of globalisation and the dominant influence of multinational companies on the poorest developing countries. On the other side of the argument are those who worship at the shrine of the free market and free trade, who see no adverse consequences to globalisation and brook no criticism of it. Indeed, the Director-General of the CBI appears to have been one of that cult's high priests in recent years. I read in the newspapers some extraordinary comments from himperhaps he was not correctly reportedabout the outsourcing of employment from Britain to places such as Bangladesh and India. He seemed to favour that and to want to see more of it. I do not think that he fully realises the consequences, but I await with interest an announcement in the near future that the bureaucracy of the CBI will be transferred to Bangladesh or Bangalore.
The anti-globalisation protestors and the pro-globalisation zealots display a lack of awareness that the pressure of globalisation is felt most by western countries. Western capitalism cannot cope with global capitalism. Countries such as China appear to be able to do capitalism with greater energy and ability than countries of the west, particularly the United States of America. We have heard about the balance of payments deficits in the US, but it arises in the main from trade with China, perhaps because of the traditional links that have always existed between the two countries. The devaluation of the dollar against the euro, which is no doubt happening as we speak, will not help the US very much with the massive balance of payments deficit it has with Asian countries, especially China. As we all know, the Chinese currency, the renminbi, is linked to the dollar, so as the dollar goes down, so does the renminbi. That is what is happening at the moment.
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