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Michael Jack : Did my hon. Friend notice the Secretary of State trying to position the United Kingdom economy by saying that, in some way, we had beaten Germany and that, in terms of the size of the economy, we were ahead of France? He neatly slid past the fact that, in spite of the way in which the French run their economy, French productivity was greater than ours. Would my hon. Friend care to comment on that omission from the Secretary of State's observations?
Mr. Willetts: My right hon. Friend makes a good point. The British economy's productivity performance has barely matched that of the sclerotic economies of euroland and we have been lagging behind all the other advanced western economies.
John Bercow : My hon. Friend referred to a missed public service agreement target, the significance of which ought to be forcefully underlined. Does he agree that for a Government to fail to meet targets set by independent experts would be disappointing, but for the Government to fail to meet the targets that they have set for themselves requires incompetence on a truly spectacular scale?
Mr. Willetts: My hon. Friend is right, and Conservative Members will continue to hold the Government to account for their performance alongside the targets that they have, as my hon. Friend points out, set themselves.
Let me turn to the reasons for the failure to improve our productivity performance and our competitiveness, one of which is the increased burden of regulation on British business. Does the Secretary of State agree that by far the biggest complaint that one hears from British business, especially small business, is the sheer costs of compliance with the ever greater flow of regulations and burdens from the Government?
Since 1997we should record this as we are debating the Queen's Speech and considering yet further legislationthe Government have produced no fewer than 315 Acts of Parliamentquite a lot of law for people to be getting on with. We have now reached the absurd position where, in the Queen's Speech this week, we have proposals to legislate to reduce the amount of legislation. Legislation is to be introduced to streamline regulatory structures and to make it simpler to remove outdated or unnecessary legislation. Legislation to remove legislation and a new quango to cut bureaucracy; that is what the Government offer us. We will be scrutinising very hard the Secretary of State's proposals on regulation to see whether he can live up to his promises.
I also warn the Secretary of State of something else that concerns Conservative Members emerging from the election campaign: the growing problem of tough questions that are ruled out during the campaign, excluded from discussion by the Government and fail to appear in their manifesto, but which suddenly and
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miraculously appear on the policy agenda within days of their re-election. Call me old fashioned, but I thought the idea was that one put one's policy proposals before the electorate to fight an election on them, rather than trying to get re-elected first and then deciding what the policies should be.
On energy, the Secretary of State and his colleagues studiously avoided talking about the energy crisis during the election. However, we know from a leaked memorandum that one of his officials has already written to him, calling for a speedy decision on whether to build more nuclear facilities. She said:
"The case for looking at the nuclear question again quickly is that if we want to avoid a very sharp fall in nuclear's contribution to energy supplies (some fall is certain and has already begun), we should need to act soon given the long lead times . . . in getting a new nuclear station up and running."
Let me put a further point to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who is sitting beside the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, because the minute refers to her. It states:
Norman Baker : I entirely agree with the proposition that parties should make clear their intentions before the election. Will the hon. Gentleman therefore explain why, when I challenged the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) on nuclear power, he replied that the Conservatives would make up their minds in the year after the election?
I am pressing the Government for a clear statement on not only their policy but the way in which they will reach an urgent decision. Conservative Members recognise that there are difficult questions and that nuclear power has to be evaluated carefully as an option. We do not say that we or the Government should make that decision today, but we believe that a clear timetable needs to be set for reaching a decision urgently because of the scale of the energy crisis. We face a significant problem of securing proper energy supplies for our economy, looking forward five or 10 years. I had hoped not for a final decision on whether the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry would go nuclear, but at
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least for an indication of the time scale in which such a decision would be made, so that people know where they stand.
There are other proposals before the House in the Queen's Speech debate. We shall scrutinise them carefully and not oppose them for the sake of it. We shall be constructive if we can, offer broad support for the Consumer Credit Bill and company law reform, and view the Equalities Bill positively. However, let me press the Secretary of State a little more about equality, because we are in a strange position after the reshuffle. There is in his Department a women's Minister who was not in the original full list of appointments, but added later. Since the Government have already reached their full complement of Ministers, she receives no pay as the new Minister for Women. Indeed, the only woman in the Secretary of State's ministerial team is not paid at all. I therefore remind him of his Department's objectives, which are set out in the Department's public service agreement targets.
The Government say that they are committed to equal pay. In their assessment of their progress on equal pay, they say that they are "on course" to achieve it. The Secretary of State may claim that he is on course to achieve equal pay, but he cannot even deliver equal pay in his Department for his Minister for Women. If he cannot do that, how on earth can we trust him to take seriously the commitments into which he has entered for the economy as a whole?
Does not that tell us everything we need to know about the Government? They make grandiose commitments, many pledges and grand promises, but completely fail to deliver. Conservative Members stand for a flexible and successful economy in a strong society. We will fight for that as we debate and scrutinise the Queen's Speech and beyond.
Kitty Ussher (Burnley) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech so early in the new Parliament and so early in this debate. I understand from the Whips that the deal for being called so early is that I must name my forthcoming offspring after you, Mr. Speaker. Of course, as a new Member, I must do exactly as you say, even if it is a girl.
It seemed appropriate to speak during the industry and environment debate since my constituency of Burnley is famed for its industrial legacy and its natural surrounding beauty. Burnley, along with other Lancashire mill towns, was the powerhouse of the industrial revolution. We wove the cloth for export that created the wealth that sustained an empire. That legacy is there for all to see: the town is criss-crossed by canals, with mill towers soaring high above in every direction that one looks.
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Over the years, as the textile trade declined, mining and manufacturing took over. Although the pits have now closed, I am proud, as a member of Amicus, to say that we remain strong in manufacturing, especially in the aerospace and automotive industries, with companies such as Hurel Hispano, Gardner Aerospace, Futaba Tenneco, Smiths and TRW employing many thousands of my constituents. In the proud market town of Padiham, Baxi Potterton makes the household boilers and fires that many hon. Members will have in their homes.
The experience of my constituency shows that, in Britain, we can succeed in manufacturing in the 21st century but that that requires investment in skills, science and technology. I therefore applaud the Government's commitment to increasing the number of manufacturing and modern apprentices, to ratcheting up science spending and their target of 2.5 per cent. of national income to be spent on research and development.
My part of the world is not all dark satanic mills, as my hon. Friend the Member for neighbouring Rossendale and Darwen (Janet Anderson) will testify. The countryside dominates Burnley, whichever way one looks. It nestles in a valley, with the imposing shadow of Pendle hill, with its legends of witches and visions, on one side, and, on the other, the beautiful villages of Worsthornewhere my stepfather's family originatesand Cliviger, which climb up into the Pennines. I am blessed to represent a truly beautiful part of the world and my husband and I have no greater pleasure at weekends than leaving our front door and setting off into the hills for a day's walk.
It is customary on such occasions to pay tribute to one's predecessor and, for me, that is easy to do because Peter Pike served the town so well in the 22 years that he was Burnley's Member of Parliament. He decided on his vocation at an early age. He was evacuated to Burnley as a child during the second world war and decided then that he wanted to be the town's Member of Parliament. Returning as an adult, he worked in the Mullards factory, where he swiftly gained a reputation as an effective shop steward and was also agent for the then Member of Parliament for Burnley, Dan Jones, who, of course, was the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor).
Peter fulfilled his childhood ambition when he followed Dan Jones into Parliament in 1983. He said at the time that he would do his best for the people of Burnleya promise that he certainly kept. He has a special place in the hearts of Burnley people and his local reputation as a hard-working Member of Parliament is second to none.
As hon. Members know, his reputation as a hard-working Member of Parliament applies equally to his time in Parliament. In the sheer number of questions asked and votes attended or in his prodigious Committee and all-party work, there is no doubt that Peter leaves behind him an honourable reputation as an experienced and senior parliamentarian.
Labour colleagues owe Peter their particular thanks for the policy work that he undertook in the early 1990s as our spokesperson, first on rural affairs and then on environment and housing, and especially for his policy
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document, "The Rural Dimension", which put forward positive proposals to protect countryside communities, many of which have since been implemented.
For me, it has been a great pleasure to work alongside Peter in the past 15 months since I was selected. I should like to put on record my thanks for the time that he gave me. I especially learned from the stories that Peter told me about his experiences of being Member of Parliament for Burnley for 22 years the difference that a Labour Government have made to constituencies such as mine. Under the Conservatives, Peter had to fight for the cash to repair leaky school roofs and toilets and to get adequate textbooks for our children. Now, under Labour, I am happy to say that we have £150 million of Government money earmarked for building five fantastic state-of-the-art new secondary schools from scratch under the building schools for the future programme.
Under the Conservatives, Peter brought housing Minister after housing Minister to look at the state of our run-down mill terraces. Promises were made to do something about it and they were all broken. Now, under Labour, millions of pounds have been earmarked and are already being spent on regenerating our housing under the Elevate programme for east Lancashire, with more money on the way.
Under the Conservatives, health care in Burnley suffered. Three hospitalsBank Hall, Marsden and Victoriawere closed. Dentists started to leave the national health service. Under Labour, we are building a new health and recreation centre, including eight new NHS dental suites; Burnley General hospital is being refurbished and expanded under a successful private finance initiative project; waiting lists are down, and deaths locally from heart disease and cancer are falling. If we add to all that the fact that unemployment is now at its lowest for a generation and that poverty in childhood and old age is falling, the inescapable conclusion is that constituencies such as mine need a Labour Government in order to succeed.
My vision for Burnley is that of a town that is as excited and confident about what it can be in the future as it is rightly proud of its industrial past. There is much that can be done before that can happen, but all the experience of the past few decades has shown that it is more likely to happen under a Labour Government than any other. So, today, I want to take the next step along that path by renewing the pledge made by my predecessor. I promise to do my very best for the people of Burnley. I thank them for the trust that they have put in me, and I thank the House for the courtesy that it has shown in listening to my speech today.
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