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5 Jan 2010 : Column 58

Ian Lucas: I am very grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's characteristically kind and good-humoured response, and of course for the full support that he has offered for the announcement today. I am sure that we will carry forward that support in preparing for the celebrations ahead.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Commonwealth, as I did in my statement. Of course, Her Majesty has been very successful in developing the strong bonds between the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth throughout her reign. It is important that we take into account the full views of the Commonwealth, and as we prepare we will have the opportunity to involve the Commonwealth in the year as a whole and in the celebrations on the bank holiday.

Another important group that should definitely be involved is young people, as the right hon. Gentleman said. I cannot confirm the press reports relating to the new youth volunteer scheme. We are in the process of discussions at the present time, and of course we will keep the House fully informed.

It is very important that the diamond jubilee celebration is seen as a distinct, almost unique celebration in British history and the history of the Commonwealth, because there has been only one diamond jubilee celebration before. I therefore agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it should be seen as distinct from the Olympics, which of course happen to be in the same year but are not linked to it. The diamond jubilee is to celebrate the commitment and work that Her Majesty has given the nation over 60 years.

It is of course important that the House of Commons be involved, and I am sure that all Members will ensure that that happens when the time comes.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for his statement and wholeheartedly endorse his remarks and those of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) about the appropriateness of celebrations to commemorate Her Majesty's remarkable 60 years' service to this country, of which we are all deeply proud.

I particularly welcome my hon. Friend's announcement about the significant honour bestowed on the borough of Greenwich, which will be very warmly welcomed throughout my constituency. In his statement, he acknowledged the significant achievements in the area. In view of his business promotion responsibilities, does he agree that 2012, which will be not just the jubilee but the year of the Olympics, in which Greenwich will host many of the most significant events, provides a golden opportunity to promote the area's already successful but further developing industries in the field of leisure, cultural activities, tourism and hospitality?

Ian Lucas: I had a feeling that my right hon. Friend would be here today. He is in the fortunate position of representing the royal borough of Greenwich, as we have said it will be in future. It is an extraordinary constituency and an extraordinary place, and it has strong historic links with the royal family, which is one reason for the announcement today. The year 2012 will be very special, and I urge anyone from across the UK who has not visited Greenwich so to do. It is one of my favourite parts of the UK, and the announcement is richly deserved.

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Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): I thank the Minister for previous sight of the statement.

In 2012, our Queen will have served her people for a whole 60 years, which is a long working life in anybody's book and deserves to be commemorated. That will be done in a lot of imaginative ways, and we look forward to hearing more suggestions for celebrations. We hope that they will be truly inclusive, and I am sure that they will.

It is welcome that all the Queen's subjects can join in the celebrations on her official birthday, but a bank holiday attracts a cost to industry. The CBI estimates that every bank holiday costs £6 billion, and the Federation of Small Businesses applauds the sentiment but notes the cost, especially to small businesses. However, we welcome this day of celebration for the only monarch who has reigned for so long, with the exception of Queen Victoria, and for someone who has served her subjects so well. We welcome the bank holiday and the celebration, because you're worth it, Ma'am.

Ian Lucas: I am very pleased that the hon. Lady welcomes the celebration.

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I commend the Minister and the Government for the splendid announcement-it will be welcomed by people the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. We look forward to a magnificent celebration of the Queen's diamond jubilee in 2012.

Will the Minister please bear in mind the importance of involving Her Majesty's subjects in the other 15 realms, particularly Australia, New Zealand and Canada and, of course, in the 21 Crown dependencies and overseas territories? They are all Her Majesty's subjects and it is important that they, too, are included in the celebrations. I remember the silver jubilee of 1977, when the Royal Canadian mounted police were here for the parade in London. Will he consider issuing invitations throughout the Commonwealth to make it a truly magnificent celebration for Her Majesty?

Ian Lucas: I will of course consider all the hon. Gentleman's suggestions. I was present to listen to his introducing his ten-minute Bill, and we have responded to that as part of the consultation and discussions that have already taken place. As I have said, it is important that the Commonwealth, the Crown dependencies and all subjects are involved in the celebrations. We want to try to ensure that.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): In 2002, a golden jubilee medal was struck for the armed forces and other uniformed services. The qualification period for it was five years before 2002. If similar criteria were used for the diamond jubilee medal, those serving between 2002 and 2007 would be disfranchised. Paradoxically, that is a period in which our armed forces have been engaged in two major theatres of war. In setting his criteria-a difficult task-will the Minister bear those people in mind to ensure that their contribution and service to Her Majesty the Queen are properly recognised?

Ian Lucas: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The criteria for the diamond jubilee medal have not yet been established. We are still in the process of taking into account issues such as those that he raises. We will of course consider them closely.

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Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): I was in the Mall with my son for the golden jubilee celebrations, which were terrific. For the diamond jubilee, will the Minister consider an even more enhanced role for our armed services? There is a particular bond between the Queen and the armed services, and we are now dependent on them and in their debt more than at any other point during her reign. If all the regiments could be recognised-and perhaps an invitation issued to all those who marched in her coronation parade or their successor organisations-it would be great. A particular focus on the armed forces for the diamond jubilee would be very welcome.

Ian Lucas: We are, of course, all very much aware of our debt to the armed services, particularly at this time. The hon. Gentleman's positive suggestions will be taken into account.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The announcement will be welcomed by the Scout and Guide movements in particular, as well as by calendar manufacturers-such as Rose printers of Colchester-which have to work two years in advance, so I appreciate notice of the bank holiday.

Will the Minister elaborate on his reference to national competitions for city status? I recall that, for the golden jubilee, England was disproportionately discriminated against. I therefore urge the Government to ensure that towns in England are treated more favourably than they were for the golden jubilee.

Ian Lucas: There will be a further announcement on the city status competition, which will set out the criteria in detail. I am aware of the strength of feeling in English towns. There is also strong feeling in my town of Wrexham-we believe that our town should have city status, too. Like the hon. Gentleman, I may be able to issue a press release after the statement.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The present Banbury cross was built following public subscription to celebrate the wedding of Princess Victoria, Queen Victoria's eldest daughter. I am sure that the people of a borough such as Banbury will want to mark the Queen's diamond jubilee by some similar but modern, 21st-century memorial and tribute. Will the Minister discuss with his colleague the Lord President of the Council whether he could approach the appropriate officials at the palace to ensure that we have a suitable fundraising logo that could be used locally by the authorities in the respective counties and by the respective lord lieutenants? In that way, there will be some focus in each county that the lord lieutenant could oversee, and it would ensure that fundraising can be organised in a structured way for local tributes for the Queen's diamond jubilee.

Ian Lucas: It would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman wrote to me with the details of his suggestion, and I will undertake to try to take it forward on his behalf.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Up and down the country, there are jubilee halls, bridges, parks, gardens and other local memorials. What steps will the Department for Culture, Media and Sport take to encourage such local celebration of the diamond jubilee in 2012?

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Ian Lucas: It is for the DCMS to set out the steps that it will take, but I will be happy to liaise with it on any proposals that need to be taken forward regarding the issues the hon. Gentleman raises.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): As a citizen who has always preferred the idea of a monarchy to a republic, I welcome the opportunity to celebrate this wonderful forthcoming jubilee. Will the Government consider a fund from the public purse to ensure that local authorities and local communities can truly celebrate the monarchy that we love, and to which all of us are loyal-I hope-on that very important day?

Ian Lucas: With the Chancellor of the Exchequer sitting to my left, I am very reluctant to make any financial commitments at this juncture, but I am sure that there will be engagement right across the United Kingdom on the jubilee, that people will be determined to carry forward celebrations, and that they will be committed to fundraising in order so to do.

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): Queen Victoria's glorious diamond jubilee was also held in June. It is an historic part of her reign that is very much remembered. The Minister talked about the importance of this jubilee being an historic occasion, but how can the Government assist in ensuring that it is?

Ian Lucas: The hon. Gentleman is quite correct-this has happened only once before in British history, so it is a genuinely historic and virtually unique occasion. We need to think carefully about it, and to hear from hon. Members and the general public, because we want to make the jubilee something that is remembered for generations to come.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): Does the Minister agree that the Queen should try to visit each of the Olympic sites? May I invite her to Hadleigh which, with Hadleigh castle, has very strong historical royal connections? She would receive an extremely warm welcome there.

Ian Lucas: I am sure that Her Majesty has heard that kind invitation and that the palace will consider it carefully.

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Point of Order

5.53 pm

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We had a statement today on climate change. It was circulated in the House of Commons in very large type, suitable for reading by the Government spokesman, and the backs of the pieces of paper were uncovered. If we are going to do something about climate change, could we start in this House of Commons, and ensure that statements are first of all written in print that is not so big, so that we use less paper, and secondly that they are printed on both sides of the paper? After all, equipment for doing that has been available for a very long time and we might do our little bit towards climate change.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman is well aware that those are not matters over which I have a great deal of jurisdiction, but I am sure that the whole House has noted his points, and perhaps they will be taken into consideration when statements are produced in future.

5 Jan 2010 : Column 63

Fiscal Responsibility Bill

Second Reading

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): May I inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition?

5.54 pm

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

We are debating the pre-Budget report more fully on Thursday, so this evening I will confine my remarks to the Bill. Every country in the world has been hit by a severe financial crisis, resulting in the worst global economic recession for decades. Inevitably, borrowing and debt levels have risen as revenues have fallen. We are affected by that; so is every other major economy in the world. Like other countries, we are now taking steps as we emerge from the recession to secure growth while reducing the deficit, but as I have said on a number of occasions, we have got to do that in a way that does not risk wrecking the recovery and damaging the economy, and our ability to secure growth over the medium and long term.

The deficit reduction plan to halve the deficit over a four-year period is a very important part of that strategy. The Bill will set out obligations to cut the deficit at an appropriate and sensible pace, and it will allow us to protect the economy and maintain public services, upon which growth and members of the public depend. That is an important part of what we are trying to do.

Whatever the economic circumstances under whatever Government, we need rules and objectives to govern fiscal policy. Between 1979 and 1997 during the previous Conservative Government, there were many different targets. Between 1980 and 1997, monetary policy targets changed 14 times and there were at least five different fiscal policy objectives. In fact, I believe that there was no clear and consistent objective of fiscal policy. The result was the lack of a clear objective and overall coherence, which meant, among other things, that we had interest rates peaking at 15 per cent. in 1990, instead of half of that, recorded over the 12 years since 1997.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): In 2015 and 2016 under the Bill, if national income rises, the Government can put borrowing up and still meet the requirements. However, if national income fell, they would have to cut. Is not that the very opposite of the natural stabilisers the Chancellor normally recommends?

Mr. Darling: No. It is important that the right hon. Gentleman recognises that the Bill requires the Government, in line with the proposals I set out in the Budget and the pre-Budget report, to halve our borrowing over a four-year period, which I believe is absolutely essential. The measures I have set out will enable us to do that, but it is important that we do it in a way that supports and does not damage the economy. Indeed, this is one of the differences between the Government and the Opposition. One reason why we should not go further at the moment is that going further and faster, and bringing forward that deficit reduction, would be damaging to the economy. We are supporting the economy now because we are not yet out of recession. We need to ensure that we have
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the support of public expenditure, which is keeping the economy going, and supporting the public, businesses and families.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr. Darling: I will give way, but I shall first finish dealing with the point made by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). It is important that we have that discipline. As I was saying, every Government must have a discipline in relation to their fiscal policy and the discipline I set out is important.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): Will the Chancellor confirm what he just said-that we are not yet out of recession at the beginning of January 2010?

Mr. Darling: I have said so-we have not yet had the figures for the fourth quarter of last year. I have said before on many occasions that I believe we will come out of recession at the turn of the year, but we will not have those figures until later this month. Had I said otherwise, the hon. Gentleman would be the first to jump up and say that we do not have the figures, which we do not.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): As the Chancellor knows, I have raised the question of the true state of the debt on many occasions. I have never had a straight answer, so I would be grateful if I could have one now. When one aggregates the amount, including public pensions, private finance initiatives, Network Rail and bank bail-outs, one reaches the figure of £2.220 billion, which is 158.8 per cent. of gross domestic product. Is that the case? The figures are from the Office for National Statistics. Will the Chancellor also tell my why, in relation to Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds, the £62 billion that he announced before the rise of the House for Christmas, was not disclosed to either the Public Accounts Committee or the ONS? Is it the case that Sir Martin Scholar is taking that matter up with him right now?

Mr. Darling: I think that the hon. Gentleman means Sir Michael Scholar, who is the chairman of the ONS. I have explained that point before to the House. This was money that was made available by the Bank of England as emergency support to ensure that RBS and the then HBOS could get through the crisis that we faced in October 2008. I have been asked about that and explained the position before. As I have told the Chairmen of the two relevant Select Committees, I am reflecting on how we deal with such matters in the future.

With regard to the other question, the hon. Gentleman is adding together all sorts of things, including future pension liabilities. The correct thing to do is to look at our position in relation to our debt and compare that with other countries. Even though our debt is going up, by 2014 it will still be below the G7 average.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): While the Chancellor's intention to reduce the public debt significantly through specific targets is unquestionably laudable, my concern is that if he-or someone else, if a different party has taken the reins of Government-misses the target, what is to prevent him from introducing an amendment to the Bill to alter the target? This is a policy statement rather than a binding objective, because it could be changed by statute in the future.

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