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Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con) rose—

Mr. Brown: I am not sure whether I want a debate on the European Union, but I suppose that I should allow the hon. Gentleman to speak.

Sir Peter Tapsell: If things are so rosy, why does the IMF tell us that our fiscal stance is rapidly deteriorating?

Mr. Brown: The IMF praised the management of the British economy. It said that its management—[Interruption.] I had an interesting discussion with the IMF when I pointed out to it not only that its figures were out of date but that I disagreed with its view.

The Conservative party—the shadow Chancellor, with the benefit of the advice of the former shadow Chancellor, will have to clarify the issue—may believe in
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a balanced Budget. That is what the former shadow Chancellor was trying to arrive at. That happens to be the view of the IMF, but it is not the view of the Government. How many Conservative Members were calling for more roads and more bridges to be built in their constituencies? We believe that it is right for transport investment and for education investment that we borrow to invest as long as we have a sustainable level of debt. As the former Chancellor will acknowledge, the level of debt fell from 44 per cent. of GDP under his chancellorship to just over 30 per cent. during Labour's chancellorship. That is why it is right for this country to be able to borrow for investment so that we can meet urgent needs that are essential if we are to have the skills, the transport and the infrastructure to compete with China and India in future.

Lynne Jones: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Brown: I have given way on several occasions.

We have measures in the Queen's Speech not only for housing but to improve the balance between work and family life. The Queen's Speech sets out the importance to our economic strategy of child care. I believe that during the recent general election families welcomed the measures that we put forward: paid maternity leave to be increased to nine months, leave transferable, extending the right to request flexible working, extending nursery education to 15 hours, and the typical constituency to have an average of half a dozen Sure Start children's centres by the time this Parliament finishes. There will be pre-school and after-school child care in extended schools. Governments in the past never even mentioned in Queen's Speeches the needs of parents of under-fives. We are able through the Queen's Speech to legislate for what effectively will be a new frontier for our welfare state to help families in bringing up their children, and particularly to meet the education and health needs of the under-fives.

That proves that just as we are the Government of home owners, we are the Government of working families.

Lynne Jones: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Brown: It is—[Interruption.] It is strange that Conservative Members are looking to my hon. Friend to do what the shadow Chancellor should be doing.

Lynne Jones: I am sorry to take my right hon. Friend back to the subject of investment in housing. I was disappointed that he did not say how the Government intend to meet the Barker review targets for affordable rented housing. It is true that the Government have substantially increased investment in housing, but that investment was at a low level when we inherited it in 1997. Current plans will not reach the Barker target. How will we reach that level? It is probably an underestimate, given the amount of demolition of unsatisfactory council housing that has taken place in cities such as Birmingham.

Mr. Brown: In total, we are refurbishing 2 million houses. If my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime
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Minister and I have not given my hon. Friend the conclusions from the consultation on the Barker review, it is because the review is still out to consultation. We shall set out the final recommendations when we have the final report following the consultation that has taken place.

Last week's employment figures showed—

Mr. Salmond: Will the Chancellor give way?

Mr. Brown: I have given way quite enough. Every time I give way to the leader of the Scottish National party I have to point out that employment is rising in Scotland, despite everything that he says.

Last week's employment figures showed that employment is above 28 million. Last week we had more people in employment than at any time in the history of our country. With unemployment falling, the spending on benefits on unemployment—this is a point that the Conservatives must realise—has halved since 1997. We have saved £5 billion a year, which we can now spend on health, education and other social services.

Our employment success is not an accident. We did not reduce unemployment by the laissez-faire policies of the Conservatives, of leaving things to chance. We did it by combining stability with the existence of a new deal. Unemployment in the UK is half what it is in France, in Germany or in the euro area. The shadow Chancellor might have said that, as a result of Government policies, unemployment in his constituency has been reduced to just 1 per cent. Perhaps the shadow Chief Secretary will be pleased to hear that unemployment in his constituency is 0.9 per cent. Both constituencies, like so many others, have seen a 50 per cent. fall in unemployment since 1997. However, we are not complacent and there is a great deal more to do.

With higher skills at a premium in meeting global competition, it is time, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will be saying this evening, to extend and improve the new deal as a new deal for skills. It would be wrong to follow the advice of the Liberals or the Conservatives at this stage and abolish the new deal.

The Queen's Speech announces the steps that we are taking to help more single parents, more young unemployed and more incapacity benefit claimants to get work. In return for new opportunities there are, however, new obligations for many who are unemployed. For those in the first three months out of work, we shall test and then extend widely a new jobseeker's agreement of work-search requirements and regular signing on. For those who are six months out of work, we are piloting in 12 areas a personal action plan that is based on compulsory interviews and an intensive work programme. For those who refuse, there is to be a tougher sanction regime. In return for these new obligations, we shall in this Parliament help 3 million adults gain basic qualifications so that they can play their full part in a modern economy in all constituencies. Those who stay on after 16 in education or unwaged training and who need finance could receive up to £75 a week in educational maintenance allowances and children's benefits. There will be special transitional help for 16 and 17-year-olds who have fallen through the net. In partnership with business, which has welcomed this, and the trade unions there will be another 50,000 people in apprenticeships by 2008.
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The question for the Conservative party and for everybody who is concerned about these matters is whether they are prepared to support the public investment that is necessary for the apprenticeships, the improvement in youth training and the improvement in education.

Mr. Salmond: Will the Chancellor give way?

Mr. Brown: I have given way quite enough and I have some further announcements to make.

When Rover went into liquidation, all parties in the House supported the emergency measures. The measures to train and to retrain and to provide job-search advice and relocation help are possible only because we have an employment service. They are possible only because there is a rapid response. It is only because the new deal is on people's side. It is only because we have a Labour market policy that is active. Is not what happened at Rover an example of why Governments, while refusing to subsidise loss makers, cannot simply walk away?

What all the Queen's Speech measures have in common—public investment in the new deal, in skills, in child care and in shared equity—is the idea of a Government who stand with people and support them as they face change in their lives and communities. That is not laissez-faire but being on the side of hard-working families. It is the role of Government in the modern world not to stand against change, not to freeze the frame but, on the other hand, not to do nothing. Our role is to help people through change. That is the modern and the most appropriate role for the responsibilities of the community in relation to individuals and the market. That shows what we mean by fairness for families at a time of change and need.

Where does the Conservative party now stand on these issues? What Conservative vision of the future has emerged from the Queen's Speech debates? What is the Conservative economic prescription for the future of our country? What is unique about the Queen's Speech debates as I have watched them over the past few days is that we do not have, as usual, a Labour economic plan as against a Conservative economic plan. There is one Labour economic plan and about half a dozen Conservative economic plans.

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