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Turning from that somewhat local issue-the excellent Marston's is in my constituency-with national ramifications, I want to look at the bigger picture of the national debt. Public finances are under considerable pressure in the United Kingdom at the moment; that is no secret. We are all aware of that, and so are just about
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all our constituents. I was, however, somewhat heartened by the Chancellor's predictions today. Of course, they might prove over-optimistic, although that has not often been the case for Treasury forecasts in the past.

Table 2.3 on page 25 of the Red Book repeats some of the statistics the Chancellor mentioned in his Budget speech. It states that the accumulated public sector net debt will rise from 43.8 per cent. of GDP in the financial year 2008-09 to 74.9 per cent. in 2014-15, which is as far as the table goes. That is a considerable rise. That would lead to the United Kingdom having an accumulated national debt lower than or broadly equivalent to that of major competitors such as France, Germany and the United States. Canada is the exception, in that its accumulated net debt is considerably lower, although it is increasing somewhat during the recession.

Mr. Cash: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Rob Marris: I am afraid I do not have time.

Table 2.3 also states that public sector net borrowing would peak at 11.8 per cent. in the year that we are just finishing, and fall to 4 per cent. by 2014-15. Four per cent. is still a big deficit to be running after five years, but it is not nearly as big as I feared it might be, because of the steps taken by this Government to secure the recovery. We need to strike a balance on the economic level-I will come to the human level in a minute-between making cuts, because we cannot carry on running such a deficit and because of the need to reassure the international capital markets, and cutting too soon, as the Conservatives are proposing, which would jeopardise the economic recovery. In those circumstances, growth-anaemic as it has been in the past quarter-might stall completely, placing even greater pressure on public finances.

Disappointingly, the Leader of the Opposition hardly put forward a single proposal today that had any meat on its bones regarding what this country should do, given the state of our public finances. He intimated that, in his view, the Chancellor was not cutting enough and not cutting quickly enough-an honourable and coherent position, but one with which I profoundly disagree-but there was no meat on those bones. I understand that there is an Opposition policy on bank bonuses, which is now broadly shared by the Government. That is to be welcomed. There is also a proposal for a Tobin tax-sometimes called the Robin Hood tax. The Government's position is that such a tax should have multilateral agreement, which is sensible. The Conservative position is to introduce it unilaterally, which is surprising. The Lord Mayor of London has described that plan as "bonkers". The Conservatives might know more than I do, but it does seem strange to go unilateral on that, however desirable the effect of the tax might be.

The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) also mentioned a council tax freeze. Attractive as that might sound, such a proposal flies in the face of what is often said on both sides of the House about local control and decentralisation. It is all very well to go for local control, decentralisation and all those nice clichés about empowering the people, but when central Government want to freeze council tax or prevent the closure of a hospital-which is Conservative policy-we
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get back to centralisation. Getting that balance right is a constant problem for politicians on both sides of the House.

Another subject that the Leader of the Opposition did not mention today-although it was brought up indirectly in the Budget in relation to the freeze on inheritance tax allowances for at least the next year-was the Conservative proposal for an inheritance tax windfall for 3,000 of the wealthiest families in the country. I do not think that that is a good way to proceed. It is intellectually coherent, but I just happen to disagree with it. It goes against my prejudices and I think that it is wrong.

The Leader of the Opposition in attacking the Budget was right to say-quite accurately, as far as I am aware-that the UK entered this recession sooner than many other countries and will come out of it later than many other countries. What that critique singularly overlooks, however, is that the recession in the UK has been markedly shallower than that in many of our competitor countries, which has had a real effect on employment. Unemployment in Spain is at 19.3 per cent.; here, it is 8.2 per cent. That affects an awful lot of people's lives. It is not just a question of the length of the recession in this country; its shallowness, importantly, has had a positive effect on people's lives. Many people are in work who might well not have been if the Government had not taken the steps they did to lessen the effects of the recession.

Mr. Tyrie: The hon. Gentleman has the figures in front of him, but I have not. However, I think he will find that, peak to trough, the fall was faster and deeper here than in any other major industrialised country. If it was not actually the deepest, it was very near to it. The Minister disagrees, but he can read the figures in a few days' time and tell me exactly where we are in the pecking order. In any case, employment in the labour market has been more resilient, but that is due to reforms the Conservatives put through in the 1980s and '90s, which, luckily, Labour did not dismantle.

Rob Marris: My understanding is that the recession has been deeper in Germany and Japan, for example. In fact, Germany may now be going back into recession. Of course the recession has been big in this country; I believe our GDP shrunk by about 6.2 per cent. last year. It is big, but when it comes to unemployment, although the recession has had an awful effect in this country, it is not nearly as bad as it is in some of our competitor countries-I think I am right in saying in every other G7 country, including Canada, which on just about every other statistic has been much better placed than the UK.

Let us look at the broad approach of what a Government should be doing. Again, the Leader of the Opposition is very honest. He says, "If you want to see what we would do if the Conservative party were in government, look at what councils are doing". His approach to the economy and the Budget was openly enunciated in his speech to the Conservative party conference last autumn when he berated "big government". There is a big ideological divide there: I think there is a lot to be said for a Government protecting people, which my Government-I am proud to say-have tried to do with some success during the recession.

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If we look at the economic policies of Wolverhampton city council, we see that the Opposition approach to the economy is to use the state of public finances as a cover for shrinking the state. That is what they wish to do. I do not wish, as a Labour MP, to shrink the state. There is a big ideological divide. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) shouts out "Shame" from a sedentary position. He is open and honest as ever-we are both west midlands MPs-as he thinks, broadly, that less government, not necessarily minimal government, is a good way to go. I disagree.

The ideological approach can be seen in Wolverhampton city council, controlled by a joint administration of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, which is making cuts. My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary is a west midlands MP, too-our constituencies share a local newspaper-so he will know all about the big cuts going on. Five community centres have closed and the price of meals on wheels has almost doubled. Sheltered accommodation in my constituency has been closed to save money. A care home was closed in the Wolverhampton, North-East constituency to save money and a 106-year-old woman was evicted in the snow. The Minister might have seen the picture in the newspaper, while other Members might be aware of it because it was on national television. It would be understandable if it were part of a necessary cuts programme, but it is not; it is totally ideologically driven. I do not have a problem with that as long as people are honest about it.

Why do I say this is ideologically driven? The Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration has controlled Wolverhampton city council for nearly two years, so what have we seen over that time in respect of moneys from central Government, which make up three quarters of funding for any council in England? There has been an above-inflation increase from central Government in their subvention to Wolverhampton city council, yet it still goes on saying-frankly, I think it is a lie-"We have to cut £40 million from the council budget". Well, it does not; it chooses to make that cut-which is fine, but let us have an open, honest debate about it.

Lynne Jones: I have a leaflet here from the Conservative candidate for Birmingham, Hall Green. On one side it says "Only the Conservatives are promising cuts before the election", which is risky but honest. On the other side, however, it condemns cuts in the constituency budget. Although the budget is controlled by the Liberal Democrats, it comes from a council that is run by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Rob Marris: Sadly, 'twas ever thus, was it not, with certain Janus-faced politicians in certain local authorities in the west midlands, and, I believe, elsewhere?

Let me end by thanking the Government for acceding to a campaign that I, and others, have been running for some time on the question of capital allowances, which are vital to areas such as the west midlands that depend heavily on manufacturing. Let us be clear about the facts. Although there has been a huge decline in the number of people in the United Kingdom who are employed in manufacturing-it is awful for those who lose their jobs, across the west midlands and elsewhere, when factories close-there has been no decline in manufacturing output.

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This is partly to do with what my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner) said about productivity. Productivity in UK manufacturing across the piece, not necessarily in every sector or every workshop but in terms of the broad figures, has increased a great deal. There are very similar levels of manufacturing output-in fact, they have slightly increased under the present Government-along with markedly lower levels of employment. That is what we get if we increase output per person hour.

Manufacturing remains vital to the UK economy and its future, both in the context of the way in which the economy runs and as a motor to help us emerge from the recession. It still accounts for roughly 50 per cent. by value of our exports, and I am pleased to say that we are still the sixth biggest manufacturer in the world. I read nonsense in newspapers like The Daily Telegraph about the death of manufacturing and the fact that we do not make things here any more. It is complete balderdash. I want more manufacturing-especially in the west midlands, obviously-and I want more manufacturing employment in an expanding sector that is helping to take us out of the recession.

Leaving aside what the Government have done for research and development and so on in the Budget and the pre-Budget report, I can tell the House that in the Budget capital allowances have been increased markedly, which will have a particularly beneficial effect on smaller businesses. We need those capital allowances to encourage the investment that will enable us to drive forward for the future, and the Government were absolutely right to increase them.

I must, with some sadness, contrast that with the position of the Conservative party. Some of its members may not know this, but the Conservative party has a clearly enunciated policy of cutting capital allowances. It seems absolutely potty to me to take billions of pounds away from manufacturing by cutting capital allowances just when there is a consensus in our economy and our society that we need to nurture manufacturing, and that we must enable it to expand so that it can help to pull us out of the recession.

I am proud that the Government are increasing capital allowances to help manufacturing. I contrast them with a Conservative party which seems to have learned very little, if anything, about manufacturing, and wants to cut capital allowances. How sad can you get?

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.-( Kerry McCarthy.)

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.


Soundproof Fencing (A50 Staffordshire)

6.59 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): It is my honour to present the following petition, which I strongly support.

The petition states:


Newborough Pharmacy (Peterborough)

7.1 pm

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I rise to present the following petition.

The petition states:


Kurds (Human Rights)

7.2 pm

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): I have 10 petitions to present tonight, out of 27 petitions that have come to the House, and which have been signed by many thousands of Croydon residents. As a courtesy, I shall only read the prayers relating to the petitions.

This petition states:


Freedom Pass (Croydon)

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): The petition states:


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Shirley Hills Viewpoint (Croydon)

7.3 pm

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): The petition states:


East Croydon Station

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): The petition states:


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