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Mr. Cunningham: I am sure that everybody would agree that we should leave them alone, but we must think about health and safety. There must be some regulations in place. There is an argument about red tape and regulation but we should not forget that health and safety issues are part of that. We will debate corporate manslaughter, for example, and it is clear that regulations have many meanings. We have minimum wage regulations. The Opposition raised the issue of regulations from Europe, and I remind them that when they were in government they brought in more regulations from Europe than any other Administration. They would deny that, but the Council of Ministers approved the regulations and read them into the British system—

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend referred to the need for improved health and safety. Does he agree that one of the welcome intentions flagged up in the Queen's Speech was the legislation relating to corporate manslaughter? If more attention had been given over many years to the highest of standards for health and safety, there would be less need to act on corporate manslaughter in cases where that has tragically been the position.

Mr. Cunningham: As someone who worked in industry, I always think that it is a tragedy when it is necessary to introduce legislation to get employers to act as good employers. They have a duty of care. For too long employers have been getting away with many things that they should not have been allowed to ignore.

I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate. It has certainly been interesting to listen to the speeches of Opposition Members. They do not have any policies and want to postpone any answers to the questions that we put to them. If we were to listen to the main Opposition party, the Conservatives, we would be back to the days of boom and bust. So far, all we have had from the Opposition Benches is baloney.

6.27 pm

Mr. David Willetts (Havant) (Con): I begin by drawing the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests.

As we come to the end of the debate on the Queen's Speech, perhaps as well as covering some of the Bills that are in the speech I might ask about one or two Bills that are not in it. We are in a strange position because we have all the Bills that have been announced in the Queen's Speech but if there is an election next May, as we have been told, very few of them are likely to come into law. [Hon. Members: "Who told you that?"] We know from Mrs. Blair. What greater authority could there be? There is also The Sun. If they agree, who are we
 
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to disagree? If we have Mr. Trevor Kavanagh and Mrs. Cherie Blair saying that it will be 5 May, I think we can work on the basis that that is quite likely.

A great deal of legislation has been announced in the Queen's Speech that may never have the force of law, but I wonder whether the Secretary of State could cast any light on a measure that might well enter into law though it was not referred to in the Queen's Speech: the judicial pensions Bill. For some strange reason it was not referred to but there was then a press release from the Lord Chancellor's Department announcing it. It appeared on the Lord Chancellor's website as an item of legislation, but it has since been removed.

I am perplexed as to the status of the Bill. As it has "pensions" in the title and as the Secretary of State has "pensions" in his title, there might be a chance that he can tell us what is happening. We would be interested to hear from him about the status of the Bill. We very much look forward to watching Labour Members walk through the Division Lobby to vote for judges to have a pension of more than £1.5 million. I am sure they will enjoy that. I should make it clear that we, the Opposition, believe in good pensions for the many, not just the few. We look forward to hearing the arguments that the Secretary of State and his Front-Bench colleagues advance for special arrangements for the few rather than the many. That is one piece of legislation that may or may not come into law. We hope that the Secretary of State will explain the position.

There is also the problem of age discrimination, to which the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) alluded. She set the Chamber alight with a reference to post- neo-classical endogenous growth theory, and went on to talk about the importance of tackling age discrimination following the European Union directive that was agreed several years ago. In a parliamentary answer on the subject—and I have checked this—the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), who used to be Minister for Pensions, said that legislation would be "forthcoming" in 2003. It has been forthcoming for an awfully long time, so it would be interesting to know from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the timetable is. The Government have already failed to meet their objective of introducing draft legislation by the summer, so what is their position on age discrimination?

The Queen's Speech, of course, includes an Identity Cards Bill. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary has already asked some telling questions about ID cards that need to be answered. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) made some powerful points about the issue, drawing on his expertise in IT projects. The introduction of identity cards would involve a major Government IT project—indeed, it would be one of the biggest in the country. I was wondering which member of the Government would want to have a word with the Home Secretary about running such projects. Perhaps it would be the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who could say a quick word about his success with the Child Support Agency computers. Perhaps the Paymaster General would like to chip in with her success with child tax credits. We have two ideal witnesses to testify to the success of large-scale IT projects, and I am sure that the Home Secretary would be interested to hear exactly how
 
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they have done it, and pick up tips from the CSA and child tax credit projects as he embarks on his even more ambitious project.

The Government believe that they need to tackle the problem of insecurity, and the Home Secretary claims that his measures will increase our security. The theme behind several interventions and speeches today, however, is insecurity in the economic arena. Financial insecurity is at least important as physical security, and is an equally niggling anxiety. The Chancellor's record has exposed the British economy and individuals in the country to a range of insecurities, including the balance of payments deficit, the budget deficit, and the problems of economic inactivity and insufficient savings. It is a pity that he is not in the Chamber. [Hon. Members: "He has just arrived."] Ah, he has entered on cue, adding another touch of pantomime to the several that we have had in our debate. For example, his latest claim is that we are supposed to be responsible for £70 billion of cuts. As he becomes more desperate, so the figure grows absurdly large. His arguments, however, were demolished very effectively by my hon. Friends the Members for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) and for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown).

As the Chancellor is here, let me talk about the four imbalances in our economy that are a threat to the security that we all want our fellow citizens to enjoy. First, the balance of payments deficit, as my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) skilfully pointed out, is a crucial piece of evidence in a modern global economy. It shows that our economy faces demand far in excess of its ability to match it with supply. Even if we do not have growing inflation, a growing balance of payments deficit is evidence of an imbalance, and the Chancellor clearly lost the exchange with my hon. Friend.

The second imbalance is the growing budget deficit. If the economy is doing so well, as the Chancellor claims, why is the deficit deteriorating steadily? Why, at this stage of the economic cycle, this year, can we see such a large fiscal deficit? It was disappointing that the Chancellor failed to engage with all the warnings that he was in danger of breaking his own golden rule. He seems to be in a world where we do not face any long-term fiscal problems as a result of his policies. Let me quote to him what he said on the "Today" programme on Monday 18 November. He said that

Does the Chancellor really believe that with his pensions policies, public expenditure on pensions will be 5 per cent. of our national income from now till kingdom come? It is already higher than that. If he read the Turner commission report, which brings together fully all the different items of expenditure on pensions and includes not just the basic pension but expenditure on all the means-tested benefits for pensioners and public sector pensions, which he tries to hide away, he would see that the figure is already more than 6 per cent.
 
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and is forecast to rise still higher. With his policies, we are converging with Europe on one of the continent's worst problems—growing public expenditure on pensions. An earnings-linked pension credit going to three quarters of pensioners or more has not been factored into his calculations.

It is not just the flow of expenditure but the liability and the stock of debt that are problems. The Chancellor talks about how he has brought down the national debt, and we heard that again from the Labour Benches. A truer measure of the national debt would include the liability to pay public sector pensions in the future. If the cost of public sector pension promises is included, the true national debt has risen under the Government by 5 per cent. of gross domestic product, as the expensive promises to pay public sector pensions have racked up.

So we have problems on the balance of payments and on the fiscal policy. Let me speak briefly about unemployment and economic inactivity. We have heard from several Labour Members how unemployment has fallen, but more than half the fall in official unemployment has been offset by a rise in economic inactivity. There are more people who are economically inactive—out of the labour market—in Britain today than at any time for the past 20 years. People are being driven out of the labour market altogether. That is what is happening under this Government. The problem is affecting some of the groups that they claim to care about most.

I am sure the Chancellor is familiar with table 14 of the labour market statistics produced every month. The figures for economic activity and inactivity show that for people aged under 25, the total number who are either unemployed and not in full-time education or economically inactive and not in full-time education is 1.112 million. That is a higher number of young people who are not working, studying or training than when the Government came to office in 1997. That is a lost generation of more than a million young people.

The position is deteriorating. Despite everything we hear about the new deal for young people, the figures represent a deterioration on the position that the Government inherited. That is why we say that the new deal for young people is not working. We have heard in the past from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and I must correct him. He has claimed:

Again, on the Government's own survey measure, the latest figures show that there are more than 150,000 young people aged 18 to 24 who have been unemployed for more than six months. There is a problem of young people who cannot find jobs, who are out of the labour market, who are not studying, training or working, and it is a pity that the Government do not engage with that, instead of endlessly repeating their mantras about the new deal.


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