Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab):
The transformation of the economy and its impact on jobs, reflected in today's excellent maiden speeches, remain my abiding memory of the last election. Figures published last week show the strongest labour market for decades, employment at near record levels and unemployment at the lowest level for 30 years. The highest rate of employment of all the major world economies is the result of Government policies. Compare the UK for example with the rates of the G7. We have the highest employment rate at 74.9 per cent. We see Italy at 56.2 per cent. We have the second lowest unemployment rate at 4.7 per cent., marginally below
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Japan, which is No. 1. That compares with the rate in France and Germany of 9.8 per cent., which is more than double ours.
Under the Government, employment is up by 2 million. The Conservative party let unemployment rise twice to 3 million between 1979 and 1997. So I speak with genuine pride about our achievements and our proposals in the Queen's Speech. I am proud of the opportunities for our young people. Long-term youth unemployment has fallen by 92 per cent. to its lowest level for a quarter of a century. I am proud that the numbers claiming unemployment benefit are back to the levels that were seen in the mid-70s, and I am proud that long-term unemployment has fallen by 75 per cent. since 1997.
In my constituency, the new deal has been an outstanding success. We claim a share in the fact that over 480,000 young people have been helped back into work, and that all important first step into the labour market should not be underestimated. The suggestion that those jobs are predominantly in the public sector is simply not accurate. Two thirds of the increase in jobs since 1997 has been in the private sector.
There should, however, be no request for forgiveness for employing 220,000 more workers in education, 280,000 more workers in the national health service and 40,000 more workers in the police. Cumulatively, that is a credit to this Government. Of course, we live in a period of constant change and challenge. For example, at first glance too many manufacturing jobs have gone since 1997, but in factas is reflected by global comparisonswe are producing more output with fewer workers. Output is 25 per cent. higher than 20 years ago.
Economic stability is one hallmark of this Government, and there is widespread confidence, particularly among home owners. According to the Bank of Scotland's house price index, house prices have risen by 54 per cent. over the past three years. I welcome the fact that my constituents share in a genuine property-owning democracy.
There was one other big issue in the election, and I am delighted that it has been mentioned by other hon. Members today. At the hustings, in the churches and on the streets, my constituents were absolutely committed to the concept of making poverty history. The main themes of the UK's G8 presidency will be Africa and climate change. Both are pressing issues in the world today, and Africa demands particular attention as the world's poorest continent.
The Prime Minister recently launched the Commission for Africa to take a fresh look at the challenges that African countries face. It will consider
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what needs to be done to meet the millennium development goals on time; regrettably, we are currently not on course to meet them.
Mr. Clarke: However, the commission will make recommendations in order to address the full range of issues, including trade, HIV and education. Clearly, other regions also merit attention, but Africa contains 18 of the world's 20 poorest countries.
When the G8 summit meets later this year at Gleneagles, which is less than one hour's drive from my constituency, what will be required is resolute political will. A "can't-do" attitude from any member of the G8 will be wholly unacceptable if we are to overcome what I passionately believe to be the biggest challenge to peace in modern timesavoidable poverty.
Mr. Clarke: Richard Curtis, one of Britain's leading screenwriters, penned the script for a movie called "The Girl in the Café", featuring Kelly Macdonald, which highlights what The Observer described as the cynicism of global politics and its ultimate victims: the voiceless people of Africa. At one point, Kelly clicks her fingers three times as someone speaks. Everyone knows precisely what the three clicks mean: every three seconds of every day, a child in Africa dies from extreme poverty. Fortunately, we have a Prime Minister and a Chancellor who, unlike the actors in the film, uniquely see those important issues as absolutely paramount for Britain. If a breakthrough on poverty led to an agreementwe are told that such an agreement will be recalled in history alongside the abolition of slavery and the extinction of apartheidwhat an outstanding reward it would be for humankind. As Richard Curtis said:
"If 50,000 people died in London on Monday, in Rome on Tuesday, in Munich on Wednesday, in New York on Thursday and in Paris on Friday, they would find the money and the solution to the problem as they walked from the lift to the breakfast bar, they just would".
We can do something to obtain the moral authority to challenge the corruption that undoubtedly exists in developing countries. For every £1 in grant aid given to developing countries, more than £13 bounces back in debt repayments, which is why the Chancellor wants to eradicate £1,000 billion of debt owed by poor countries to the major banks. That could put an end to this statistic, which would be more than worthwhile: one in 16 women in Africa is at risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth, compared with one in 1,400 in Europe.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I am sure that all hon. Members feel for those who are making their maiden speeches. We all remember the terror, hesitations and anxieties that go into the process. I give a cheer that so many hon. Members have accomplished their maiden speeches so well today. New Members refresh the most important institution in our national lifethe Commons.
It was a privilege to listen to the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). He is unusual in this age of "I am". He was a modest, dignified, decent and remarkable Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I wonder at the extraordinariness of modern GovernmentsMinisters do not last for any length of time and they are moved when they begin to become experienced.
There were two big "I ams" in the general election campaign. There is no Labour party or Conservative party any more; there are leaders who say that they will do this or that for us. The leaders use phrases such as "I pledge", "I will dismiss" and "I will reduce"I, I, I. The campaign was about the big "I".
The most modest thing in the Queen's Speech is Her Majesty herself. We have seen the struggle across this nation to assert the primacy of party leaders, which will not work and is not working. We are beginning to see a fracture: the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to accompany the Prime Minister to reassure the core voters of an ancient, important political party, which includes old Labour as well as the fading new Labour.
In the Chancellor of the Exchequer we saw Ozymandias and heard the sounds of the winds beginning to blow. We can reflect on all the marvels of new deals, whatever other deals or the computerised economic theories of today, but if they were such a wondrous Government with such a wondrous programme, why could not they induce any more than 22 per cent. of the British electorate to vote for them? Why did they get fewer votes in England?
We have heard the assertions of Front Benchers that they know best, but then we get the further hubris of a Queen's Speech such as this. Six months after the last announcement of 32 Bills, we are now presented with more than 45. However one looks at it, it is really only a political message, like those of Mr. Alastair Campbell: "We'll put this in the Queen's Speech just to tell you what our general intentions are." We have only a few monthsuntil November next yearin which to complete this business. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who is sitting on the Front Bench, will be surprised by what has happened to the House since he was last here. This House no longer has the time to discuss anythingit has given over to the Executive the right to determine at the end of a Bill's Second Reading how little time we may have to consider such matters.
I will reflect on just two things that spring out of this long, abysmal, soul-dismaying Queen's Speech of good intentions. The Identity Cards Bill was launched in the
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last Parliament and it should have full and adequate discussion. When it was put into Committee Upstairs, so limited was the time given to the consideration of a measure that may cost the Exchequer untold sums of money