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Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): An even more important measure is the rate of growth of productivity, not just its absolute level. In each of the three terms of this Labour Government so far, the rate of productivity growth has fallen.
Rob Marris: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because it illustrates the dividing line between his party and mine. Of course the rate of growth in productivity is important. I think that he said that it was the most important measurehe will correct me if I am wrongbut it is not the most important one to me. The most important thing for me is the size of the pie that we can divide up, as equally as possible, in our society. That is to do with the way people live, and their quality of life. To say that the most important measure of productivity is output per person-hour and to point to the slowdown in the rate of its growth are of course important, but that is not the most important thing to me. Those are dry statistics; I want to talk about people and the size of the social pie.
Greg Clark: Far from being dry statistics, these measurements go to the heart of the matter. I am not interested in the pie as it stands at present. I am interested in the future pie, and the growth in our productivitycompared with that of our competitorsdetermines the size of the pie to be divided up. The fact that the hon. Gentleman is concerned only with the past and the present is a poor comment on his ambitions for our country.
Rob Marris: I did not say that I was just concerned with that issue. This is to do with where my primary concern lies; that is all. Of course I am worried about the future. I also worry about the present more than the hon. Gentleman does, because it is my Government who have to deal with the present. It is his prospective Government who might have to deal with the future, although I hope not for a long time.
We need to bear in mind that, after nine years of this Government, we have 2.4 million more people in work, two thirds of them in the private sector. That is having a huge effect on people's lives. It does not mean that every problem is solved, but it is a major positive for our society that is not oft remarked on by Opposition Members
Rob Marris: But perhaps the hon. Gentleman is about to do so.
I am very worried about the drift of the hon. Gentleman's speech. He said a few moments ago that it was notoriously difficult to measure productivity in the health service. He then agreed that the rate of growth of such productivity was important, although
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not necessarily the most important factor. If productivity is difficult to measure, it is difficult to see why he would regard it, and particularly its rate of growth, as so important. May I put it to the hon. Gentleman that the advances in medical science are such that there will always be a new queue whenever there is a new cure? That increases, rather than diminishes, the importance of productivity growth, as we must ensure that we get maximum value for money for the finite resources that will be available.
Rob Marris: This will be my last word on this issue and I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not give way further on health service productivity. The hon. Gentleman says that there will always be a queue. With the advent of statins, there is no longer a queue for heart surgery, but there may be a queue down at the pharmacy for a few extremely important pills. Do we therefore say that heart surgeons are less productive because they are carrying out less surgery? That might be so, but I am not going to continue on the NHS.
We need to focus on the 2.4 million people who are employed, two thirds of them in the private sector, and on the quality of their lives in terms of public services and income, because obviously income, the size of the pie and growth in the pie are important. The relative position of the United Kingdom, a statistic mentioned by the Chancellorwhich is not often remarked on, and perhaps not at all todaywas that this country's gross national income per capita when we came into Government was seventh in the G7 group of advanced industrial countries. We are now second out of seven. That is not to say that everything is rosy, but it looks like a darn good trend to me. As far as I am aware, that change is not just because the income of the other five has suddenly been cut, but because it has not increased as much as ours. That is extremely important and, again, is connected with the labour force participation rate. I will give way on this point, before I move on to more micro-matters.
Mr. Graham Stuart : I thank the hon. Gentleman, who has been most generous in giving way. Earlier, he mentioned points about the Labour Government's record that do not often get the praise that they deserve. Will not he accept that when the Labour Government came to power, the UK economy was the most powerful in Europe, it had changed and had already seen significant improvements in the number of jobs? If he could accept that, we could at least view his arguments in a balanced way. [Interruption.]
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We must not have shouting from sedentary positions when a Member is making an intervention.
I will go so far as to say that some economic indicators, including falling unemployment, were positive on 1 May 1997. However, the suggestion that at that point the United Kingdom was somehow the economic powerhouse of the European Unionor the most powerful economywould be questioned by 60 million west Germans, and probably 80 million Germans. I stand to be corrected, but many people would agree, without picking any other examples, that the German economy in May 1997 was stronger than
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ours. Our economy now is stronger than the German economybecause our economy has come up, not because the German economy has come down.
We have been talking about productivity and I very much welcome the statement on page 15 of the Budget 2006 "Budget Notes", dated 22 March, in relation to amendments to research and development tax relief schemes. It is important to companies in the west midlands and, I hope, to all right hon. and hon. Members, to encourage more research and development and consequently, one hopes, investment in our economy. Paragraph 2 states:
"the Government intends to provide additional support to firms with between 250 and 500 employees through R&D tax credits, subject to the outcome of state aid discussions with the European Commission."
That is extremely helpful. In previous years, the Government have gradually extended the scope and amount of R and D tax credits, which has not yet had as positive an effect as one would hope, but it is having a positive effect. R and D is creeping up, I would like it to increase further and that segment of companies with between 250 and 500 employees could be a real driver of that increase. I hope that that helps manufacturing around the country, especially in the west midlands.
To move on to the green agenda, I declare an interest as a member of Greenpeace since, I think, 1975. I have a feeling that I am also a member of Friends of the Earth. I will declare that because I think I am a member, although I am not sure.
I am pleased that the Government introduced, and are sticking with, the climate change levy. I am saddened that the Conservative Opposition seem still to be wobbling about it. In fact, as far as I can tellperhaps a Conservative Member will elucidatethey seem still to be against it. Despite difficulties in what might be called the fine print, I think that it has had a positive effect.
The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), the former shadow Chancellor, said in January that the climate change levy had not been a success. That followed his statement in July 2000:
"We regard the climate change levy as an aberration that should never have been brought before Parliament."[Official Report, 18 July 2000; Vol. 354, c. 322.]
He was very clear about that. I think that he was also very wrong, and I urge the Government to stick with the climate change levy. It is a pity, however, that there has been no change in airport passenger duty. I think that we should continue to push within the European Union for some kind of excise duty and also duty on aviation fuel.
Adam Afriyie : I thought that I had better intervene before the hon. Gentleman stampeded over his own Government's policies. The Government's energy review is currently under way. I am stunned that they have already concluded that the climate change levy should remain, although the review has not been completed.
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