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I do not think that the Government got it wrong. It is an easy hit to say that it is a Government problem. The banks are part of the partnership
with Government. It is not my right hon. Friend the Minister who is sitting in the bank manager's office saying, "Sorry, you can't have the loan." We have put in place the programmes and we need to ensure that they are being delivered through the banking system. There is a whole range of measures, including the Scottish business gateway, the enterprise finance guarantee scheme, the VAT reduction, and tax payment deferrals. I have lost count of the businesses that have complimented the Government on how Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is relating to them.
In some instances, local businesses in Scotland-I am not making a criticism of any particular aspect of Government-are finding it difficult to access information. I ask Ministers to ensure that there is maximum co-operation between Westminster, through the Secretary of State, and the First Minister and the Finance Secretary in the Scottish Government to ensure that businesses are getting the information they need, when they need it.
Another issue that was raised by the Scottish FSB is the consolidation of banking between the two great big monoliths. It said that about 78 per cent. of business in Scotland is being conducted through those monoliths. I welcomed the Chancellor's statement earlier this month calling for more competition in the marketplace; that will make a significant difference.
Finally, I welcome the decisive action taken by my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, who have guided us through unprecedented global financial crisis. They took difficult decisions when they needed to be taken, and they remained calm in the face of a financial tsunami, unlike some other political parties, which did not know from one day to the next what their position was. However, I hope that my colleagues recognise that there is still more to be done. The SME sector did not get us into this financial crisis, but it will be crucial to getting us out of it.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), who was particularly helpful to me with a constituency case when she was a Work and Pensions Minister.
I wish to focus my contribution on child poverty. A Child Poverty Bill was, of course, announced in the Gracious Speech, but the subject also impinges to an extent on the Bill on improving schools and safeguarding children. Child poverty has risen for the third year in a row, and there are now 4 million children living in poverty, a rise of 100,000 since last year.
The Child Poverty Bill defines child poverty in four ways and sets out worthy targets. There is a target of 10 per cent. of children living in relative low-income poverty by 2020, which means households with less than 60 per cent. of the median income. There is another target of 5 per cent. of children living in combined material deprivation and low-income poverty, which means households with less than 70 per cent. of the median income. There is persistent poverty, defined as children living in relative poverty for three out of four years, and finally absolute low income.
Those measures all relate to a family's financial circumstances, and I believe that there is a fifth category of child poverty, which is cultural and emotional poverty.
That can hamper a child's education and future employment prospects just as much as financial deprivation, if not more in some cases. In an ideal world, parents give priority to the welfare and development of their children. They give them a sense of security, love them demonstrably and share family meals and conversation. They take a close interest in their children's education, read and listen to them and provide interesting experiences. They encourage hobbies, sport, clubs and playing musical instruments, and importantly, they set standards and values by example.
Sadly, a minority of parents fail their children in that respect. It might be the result of drink or drug habits, but sometimes it is simply because of the absence of instinctive parenting skills. An unhappy childhood can sometimes lead to neglectful parenting. A bad experience at school can mean that parents may not know how to help their own children with their homework, or even be motivated to ensure that they attend school regularly. Such parents are also least likely to become involved in school activities, join the parent teacher association or help at the fête and thereby make an important link between school and home. Their children are least likely to belong to a scout or guide troop, the Boys Brigade or Girls Brigade, an armed forces cadet corps, sports teams, choirs, drama groups, youth clubs or a Church.
Those children experience child poverty of a special kind, because they miss the sense of belonging that flows from such life-enriching activities. They miss out on belonging to a team, being reliable and being able to rely on others, acquiring social and interpersonal skills, and trying their best and being appreciated for it. They do not learn to win and lose with good grace, which is an important life skill. Many of those learning activities are well disguised as having fun, but they are learned nevertheless.
Each of our lives could be viewed as a Venn diagram, with the overlapping circles representing all the "belonging" components. Most of us would belong in any number of shared spaces-family, personal friends, acquaintances, work colleagues, clubs and hobbies, the place where we live, our religion-and our sense of belonging and purpose come from those shared values and experiences. The absence of them creates a void readily filled by membership of a street gang of similarly impoverished young people and all the associated dangers that that can bring. We have seen many tragic consequences of so-called feral youths who, feeling that they do not belong anywhere or that nobody is particularly interested in them, develop misplaced loyalty to a charismatic or manipulative gang leader with values wholly unacceptable to the rest of the community, such as carrying knives and just being at odds with the rest of their world.
I pay particular tribute to the invaluable work done by Barnardo's in identifying the minority of children and young people at risk of becoming involved in criminal and antisocial behaviour. Barnardo's supports these children and their families, addressing their individual concerns and sticking with them to break the cycle-benefiting them, their communities and society as a whole.
The child poverty resulting from inadequate parenting is demonstrated in children's lack of self-esteem and confidence, under-achievement at school and lack of aspiration and ambition for a more fulfilling and productive life. It is not necessarily the exclusive province of families in financial poverty. Well-off parents sometimes use
over-generous pocket money and a lack of supervision as an easy way out. Such indulgence and lack of behavioural boundaries can also lead to the same cultural and emotional poverty and the feeling that nobody really cares what they do or where they go.
These children belong-I use the term deliberately, because we do not want them to separate themselves from the rest of society-to the next generation of adults, and they should be prepared with the social and practical skills to enable them to take their place in the adult world, to find gainful employment and to be a part of the future of our country. It is up to us to prevent them from slipping through the net.
The Children's Society goes further and asks for a clear legal definition of parental responsibility, not just in education, but in safeguarding and promoting the child's health, development and welfare. I have not mentioned that to any barristers I know, but I imagine that it would be difficult to define such things in law because they are subjective and even more difficult to enforce. However, the principle is a good one, and if it could be considered, and a way found, without intruding on the privacy of the vast majority of families who manage their affairs perfectly well, we ought to think about it.
The importance of parental responsibility cannot be overestimated, and for children not benefiting from good parenting, we must find ways of making as many opportunities as possible available to them. For example, public libraries are an amazing source of entertainment and information. A good book can transport a child into another world, enchant, horrify, amuse or broaden the horizons of the mind. Our libraries are free of charge-no child living in poverty need be deprived of the wonder of books or the opportunity to develop knowledge, vocabulary and spelling through the enjoyment of reading.
I know that our schools already have huge expectations placed on them, but perhaps librarians could be invited into schools to promote book borrowing, reading clubs and other library activities among families where books are not important. Even the simple possession of a library ticket can give a child a sense of belonging-of being part of something. Similarly, leaders of young people's uniformed organisations might also be invited in to talk about their activities, or even to start a group on school premises to attract children previously excluded. Police community support officers, youth offending teams and youth outreach workers could also play a part in getting excluded children involved.
The Bill on improving schools and safeguarding children contains some promising elements, including on clarifying parents' responsibilities in their children's education. All community groups have so much to offer to children in overcoming cultural and emotional poverty. Our challenge is to make those connections. If we do not, however much progress is made towards meeting the four targets in the Child Poverty Bill, the fifth category of child poverty that I mentioned will remain. The bills of social failure, to which my hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor referred in his introductory speech, will be high indeed.
About three hours ago, I listened to the opening speeches from those on both Front Benches. At that time, I intended to say something, if I caught your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, about a constituency issue that relates to flooding and the resources required for that. I still hope to talk about that and some labour market issues. However, having been provoked approximately three hours ago, I would not do myself justice if I did not allow myself the opportunity to respond a little to the provocation.
Opposition parties must oppose, but when countries are in crisis, as we clearly were less than 15 months ago, political parties have a responsibility to look after the nation's interest first and other considerations, whether party or even constituency considerations, second. There is much evidence in British history of that happening. I will not try to identify examples; I think we all know them. When I first became a Member of Parliament more than 20 years ago, there were many occasions on which issues were considered to be in the national interest and colleagues took stances based on that.
The Conservative party did itself a disservice in October last year by not recognising a national crisis that needed a national response and a national solution. The whole world said-broadly speaking; I use shorthand-that the proposals of the Prime Minister of Britain to the international economic forums and the actions that those forums and the main countries associated with them, including European Union countries, Japan, China, India, the United States, took constituted the right policy position. If the Conservatives had accepted that at the time, they would not now be in a position whereby, having opposed what seemed eminently sensible to the rest of the world, they are picking at the aftermath to try to find differences with the Government. I essentially accuse the Conservative party of a political response to an economic crisis. The Conservative party is now in the position of arguing that, because of x, y and z, it would be capable, should it be in government, of paying back more debt more quickly than the Government, should they be re-elected. That is economic nonsense.
As the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) said, growth rates in this country tend, broadly speaking, to be secular. I do not believe that Governments can do a lot to improve a country's growth rate-perhaps a little bit here and there. However, they can do a lot of damage in undermining the secular growth rate at a particular point. Again, there is much evidence that Conservative party policy-I do not blame current Conservative Members-did that in the early 1980s. We know the consequences for many communities throughout our country. That was repeated in the 1990s, albeit not with the same devastating consequences. However, they were still pretty devastating.
The danger is, were a Conservative Government elected, and they carried out as the economic policy of the country the commitment made in opposition for political reasons it would at the very least damage our ability to recover from the current position. It would arguably cause further deep and serious damage. I urge the Conservative party to try to think a little more in the national interest.
Having got that off my chest to some extent, I greatly welcome the Bill to control flooding. We do not have time to go into it in detail-there may be another opportunity for that, should it get a Second Reading.
There is a need to change the structures that deal with flooding. I have had flooding in my constituency and I ended up co-ordinating the activities of the Environment Agency, the local authority, the water company, social services and several other people. That, however, is not really the role of an MP; an MP's role is to have an interest in it and to know what is going on. A lead agency should be made responsible for it, but I do not think that there is one. All the agencies are trying to do everything, so there is need for some structural change. We await the detail in the Bill.
Secondly, resources will be required to tackle whatever recommendations are put forward in any particular part of the country. Our planning regulations need to be looked at as well. The House may well have considered this on another day, but people who think they can simply stick concrete or tarmac anywhere they want as part of a development really have to be stopped. There needs to be a much more considered environmental approach to these matters, so that at least some of the territory where the development is taking place has a porous surface that will allow rainwater to drain in a more natural way. We rarely see serious flooding, apart from river floods, in the middle of fields; we now see a lot of it in urban areas because of the inability of our drainage systems to take the water away. I look forward to this important Flood and Water Management Bill. Especially after last week's events in Cumbria, I hope the House will reach a consensus and allow the Bill to become law before the end of this Parliament.
Thirdly-I will also have to try to find more time for this on another occasion-I am vice-chairman of the Council of Europe Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population. We deal with demographic issues as they arise-basically in the world, albeit in their relation to Europe. We look at asylum, refugees and all those things. In the Queen's Speech, the Government rightly identify training as an important issue. Some people might ask about the link between that and migration. I believe that the political world has to start raising the importance of that link. We have got to stop talking about migration and immigration as burdens that have to be shared among European countries. Migrants make enormous contributions to our economic way of life in this country and throughout Europe. We have got to start recognising that. Figures given to the Davos conference in 2008 showed that there will be massive changes throughout Europe in the proportion of the population that is over 65. It will be a much bigger proportion- 10 per cent. more at the moment; about 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. more in the future.
Conversely, there will be a dramatic reduction in the proportion of young 18 to 30-year-olds. I know that the British Army is looking at future recruitment patterns and wondering where it is going to get enough young people to join it in the necessary cohort. The answer is either that it will have to recruit them from somewhere else or that we will have to cut the size of the Army. A lot of employers are looking at the same issue and trying to find ways to recruit in the future. The political world has to take a lead in this and say, "Yes, we need migration." I believe that managed migration is what we need. I know that no specific provision has been made
for this in the Queen's Speech, but some background speeches have been made to illustrate the Government's position.
The Government are in the right territory on this: the points system is fine, but I think there also needs to be a more frequent review of the points within every category so that the system responds to labour-market conditions more flexibly than at the moment. I would like to have seen something to deal with that in the relevant Bill, but it is not in it.
Let me explain the link to training. If we allow so many of our young people-I know many students cannot get work at the moment and the Government have some plans to deal with it-to believe that we are not doing enough to help them to get work and that we are relying on migrants, we will create the conditions for deeper social conflict in the years ahead when we will really need those migrants. We need more active training schemes to help people-including some in parts of my constituency whose families have not been in work for generations-back into work. It is crucial that at the same time as we meet some of our labour demands from migrants-we will need to do so-we also bring into work people from communities where they have not worked in the more recent past. We need to combine those two aspects in our plans to meet labour demands over the next 25 years or so. We need to start now; we cannot start doing this 10 years down the line when the shortages are critical. I know that the Government have their minds on this and I hope that they will concentrate them a little more. If the Queen's Speech helps them to do that, it will certainly have my support.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) and to speak in this debate, although I suspect that the measures announced in the Queen's speech will play second fiddle to many of those announced in the pre-Budget report and the Budget next spring. At that point, at least the Chancellor will be forced to describe, in more detail, the public finances and our economic condition, which he failed to do today.
We know that our deficit is at least £175 billion, or 12.4 per cent. of GDP. That is forecast to fall, based on what were considered very optimistic growth figures, to 5.5 per cent. of GDP by 2013-14. That will still be more than twice the level of the pre-crash deficit rate of 2.4 per cent. in 2007-08. On the treaty calculation, the national debt is forecast to hit £1.6 trillion in 2013-14, which will be £60,000 per household.
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