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This, unhappily, ignores the far higher costs involved in producing cider and the considerable environmental benefits generated by the cider industry. It is a tragedy that the Chancellor has gone down this route.

There is another message here, too, for those in the beer industry. I hope that the House will remember that large numbers of hop growers also live in my constituency and do a tremendous job at a time when there is a great deal of pressure from the brewers to use less and less hops and to choose hops with higher alpha acids. The industry-whether it be brewers or cider makers-decided to fight among themselves about duty and as soon as the Government saw division, they nipped into the gap and increased the duty not just, aggressively, on cider, but on beer, which is a great shame.

Let me touch on binge drinking, too, as the high-strength, low-fruit-content ciders are deeply associated with this problem. The overwhelming majority of ciders are not beverages used by binge drinkers and the country's unique, traditional and responsible cider makers should not be punished for this behaviour. I think that if these cider makers lived in Labour marginal seats, the difference in the Budget might have been considerable. I hope that the Government will reconsider. I hope that, in the years to come, they will realise that attacking a British industry run by British producers for British consumers in British pubs is a very silly and sad mistake to have made.

Let me touch an another aspect of the Budget that I noticed-the proposal for a green bank to deal with green issues. At a time when bankers are, let us face it, not popular, it is extraordinary that the Government are acquiring yet another bank. They have bought RBS and Lloyds, they have taken on a nationalised Northern Rock, and now they want another bank. I believe that Post Bank, which was promoted yesterday, will be the Government's fourth. I am very happy to see green businesses supported-I am a passionate environmentalist myself-but I do not understand why the Government want to own more and more banking businesses.

If the Government really wanted to promote environmental issues, they could start by cutting red tape and ensuring that industries that are exceptionally environmentally friendly, such as cider making, are protected. They could deal with the microgeneration certification scheme, which is affecting green energy suppliers. They could also help farmers to produce more on-farm renewable and low-carbon energy. There are 2,500 on-farm anaerobic digesters in Germany, and only about 30 in England.

One of my constituents tells me that he wants an anaerobic digester on his dairy farm and has invested in one, but he needs help from Advantage West Midlands. It wants to help, but it is bogged down in red tape. Regulations and red tape from DEFRA cost about £530 million, and prevent farmers from expanding into the low-carbon energy sector. After a decade of Labour,
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barely 2 per cent. of the energy used in the United Kingdom comes from renewable sources. That is a record that the Government will leave behind. They should be supporting jobs and the rural economy by making it easier for businesses to invest.

Labour's claims to support green technologies are inconsistent. The rate of duty on liquefied petroleum gas, a fuel that the Government should be encouraging more people to use because it is cleaner, has spiralled upwards in recent years. In 2005, it stood at 9p per kilogram. It has already trebled to 28p, and will rise further to 30.53p on 1 April, to 31.95p in October and to 33.04p on 1 January next year. Over six years it will have risen by 367 per cent. That is really not the best way in which to promote clean alternatives. The Government are sending a mixed message on green jobs: in March last year the Prime Minister promised to create 400,000 of them, but by the time of the Labour party conference the figure had fallen to 250,000.

The real problem for businesses is the ability to borrow. The Government have increased the target for the amounts that banks should be lending to business, but the lending is not happening. During the current economic downturn 27,000 businesses have gone under, and lending is a problem for businesses in my constituency. Last year I arranged a meeting between banks and businesses, at which it was made clear that there was a problem. The banks themselves say that they would like to lend-especially to farming businesses, because the collateral in the land value is good-but they cannot take the risk unless a business has a long track record. The reason, they say, is that other banks will not lend the money to them. Liquidity is a real problem at present, and the Government will not solve it merely by creating new banks.

Broadband is another example of rural communities being badly left behind. Towns and villages in my constituency that are not connected are suffering. Only 58 per cent. of households in the rural west midlands have fixed broadband connections. According to the Commission for Rural Communities, 42 per cent. of rural England can currently only access speeds of 2 megabits per second or below. I have written to Ministers, whose answers show that the Government have no idea of the percentage of business and residential properties in Herefordshire without access to the 2 megabits per second envisaged in Digital Britain. I met representatives of BT the other day to discuss the issue, and they were keen to help, but BT is a business too. It has shareholders, and faces challenges of its own. I am extremely worried that the Government's policy will not work.

Lingen currently has no broadband provider. A company called QiComm used to provide it, but can no longer do so because the service is not commercially viable. Members of the community joined forces to get a service up and running themselves, with the support of the local council. There are 36 users, whose broadband service will be operational from 1 April. That demonstrates what can be done when users get together. However, if they are to pay tax on their phone bills, they will be paying for something that they used not to have but went out and acquired for themselves. I do not think that the Government's 50p tax on fixed-line telephones will deliver the changes that we would all like to see.


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The Government have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on bailing out the banks. Businesses will want to know why that hard-earned taxpayers' money is not filtering through the system and reaching them. We heard plenty about the car industry in the Budget statement, but I have not forgotten what happened in the west midlands before the last general election. The Longbridge plant was failing, and vast quantities of taxpayers' money were poured in. That was before the Phoenix four story broke. I therefore have grave reservations about what the Government have promised in the Budget. I am particularly sad about what they are going to do to the cider industry-a fantastic industry that was doing so well, and which has been dealt nothing short of a body blow by this attack on it by the Labour Government.

There are now clear dividing lines. The Government have demonstrated that they have no regard for the rural communities. The best description of the Budget that I have heard is that it is a Polo mint Budget: it looks all right around the edges, but there is the gaping hole in the middle of £19 billion in tax that needs to be raised. We heard nothing about that. It was a Budget designed for an election campaign, which, like the Budget, will fail.

4.25 pm

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): When I first entered this House five years ago, I do not think I was a very nice or pleasant person. The wonderful thing about Parliament, however, is that it knocks off, and smoothes, the edges, and I think I am a much nicer person now. I hope that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will return after the general election a nicer person. There have been some great contributions to this afternoon's debate, but listening to her speech was a bit like sucking on a lemon, chewing cotton wool and listening to someone dragging their fingernails down a blackboard all at the same time; it really did set one's teeth on edge. I think she should work on becoming a nicer person in the Chamber, because she is very nice outside it, and I think she will wear niceness very well inside it when she returns-as I am sure she will-after the general election.

This country faces some enormous challenges; we would be fools if we did not accept that. Borrowing this year is set to be £167 billion, and next year it will be a very similar sum. Our national debt is £1.3 trillion, and if we include off-balance-sheet liabilities it could be twice as much. These are therefore very uncertain and worrying times for our constituents and the businesses and organisations that serve them.

In uncertain times we, as political leaders in this country, need to bring as much certainty and clarity to what we do as possible, because the following is an example of what happens when we have uncertainty. Let me say, however, that I hope Labour Members will see that I am not making a political point.

Today, I received a letter from the chief executive of Hertford regional college. I shall read out only the highlights:

He concludes:

We did not give this college, or other colleges around the country, clarity. We said one thing and we then changed our minds, and we have put them in great difficulty. I therefore hope that after the next general election all politicians will, as far as is possible, try to stand by what they say and what they promise. I know that that is very difficult to do, but we really must try, because that is one of the best ways we can help both public and private sector organisations navigate what will be a very difficult few years.

We must also demonstrate high levels of fairness. There will be a war for public money, and a variety of well-funded pressure groups and organisations will bombard us with correspondence pleading that their area of interest is more deserving than others. I believe that the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) was the Chair of the Select Committee on Health for some time.

Mr. Barron: Is the Chair.

Mr. Walker: The right hon. Gentleman is the Chair of the Health Committee. I can tell him that I am concerned that disease areas-admittedly deserving ones-that have well-funded lobbyists may crowd out those disease areas that perhaps do not have such a loud voice. I am chair of the all-party group on mental health and I know that for decades mental health has been underfunded and last in the queue. Things certainly have improved under this Government and it would be churlish of me to suggest otherwise, so here is my plea on behalf of mental health services. I am not going to ask for more money, because that would be unrealistic. However, perhaps we could keep what we have got, because we are doing good work with it, helping many millions of people who otherwise would not have been helped. I hope that after the general election, when the special interests come knocking, we will be fair and will listen to those voices that perhaps are not raised as loudly but are equally as deserving.

Of course, we also have a responsibility, as Members of Parliament, in this difficult time. We must have robust and searching debate. Many enormous decisions will need to be taken, but I hope that we will resist the temptation to get too partisan, too vitriolic and too personal. I freely admit that I was not a particularly nice person five years ago. [Hon. Members: "Oh, you were."] My colleagues are being very generous. I thought it was the done thing to stand here and make puerile comments to score points against the Government. I did enjoy doing that, but it did not get me very far-I am still here on the Back Benches-and it certainly did not advance the causes of my constituents and their businesses. We need to set a very good example in the next Parliament, because people will be looking to us to do the right thing for them, to make the hard decisions and not only to stand by those decisions, but give them the proper scrutiny and attention that they deserve.


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I was asked to speak briefly because others wish to get in, but I should say that I am hugely optimistic about the future of this country. As I have said, I think we will have a very difficult few years ahead of us. The media like to talk this up as a near-apocalyptic five years, but I know that this country has, in the medium to long term, an enormously bright future ahead of it. I know that we are going to get through these dark times because we are all going to pull together and we are all going to do the right thing. We may not like it and it may be difficult for a period of time, but it would be ridiculous if politicians could not set out an optimistic vision for what will happen afterwards. No matter what side of the House we sit on, we all want to see our constituents become more prosperous, we all want to see them have great and better opportunities to advance their lives and achieve their aspirations, and we all want to see young people, of whatever age, have the very best education and the very best opportunity to pursue worthwhile careers, be they in the private or public sector. I know that we face great challenges, but I also believe that we have an extremely bright future ahead of us and it would be silly to suggest otherwise.

I wish to say one last thing as this Parliament draws to a close. I have had a cracking time representing my constituency of Broxbourne; we have had a lot of good times and we have had a few bad times, but it has been a fabulous five years. I have also had the honour of serving with some simply wonderful Members of Parliament from both sides of the House, who are real heroes of their communities. In the next week we will say goodbye to a number of them and in six weeks' time we will say hello to perhaps another 300 colleagues, but this is a great Parliament to work in. Despite what has happened over the past five years, it is full of the most honourable people and it has been an absolute privilege to call them colleagues.

4.34 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) modestly said that when he came here he was not a very nice person, but I do not agree with that at all. He has always been a very nice person and, more importantly, he has enormous integrity. I want to get that straight, because when he goes into this election, he can hold his head high for the simple reason that, from the Back Benches, he has been absolutely true to what he believes in. As I have said several times in the past month or so, we not only need radical reform in this Parliament but we need our Back Benchers to have backbone. That has been part of the problem.

Many of the complaints that have been made about the manner in which the system works, through the Whips and so on, do not take sufficient regard of the way that some of us have acted from time to time, for a variety of reasons, despite our general agreement with the policies, principles and attitudes of our parties. That applies across the House and in all parties, and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) for standing out as a man of integrity. This is what makes a Parliament. We should not just get up and parrot whatever other people want to give us, by way of a broadsheet. We must get up and say what we
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really think, because our first duty is to our country, our second duty is to our constituents and our third duty is to our party's policies and programmes. Those sentiments are not mine but Winston Churchill's, and I believe them absolutely. I will do my best to continue in that manner after the next election if my electorate are good enough to return me to the House.

I want to talk about the truth in relation to two main matters, the first of which is the economy. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury is a sort of neighbour of mine, as he represents Dudley, South-at least, he is not far away-and I have had many exchanges with him, as well as with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister, about what lies at the root of the Budget. Debt is what lies at the root of the Budget, and that will continue after the election whichever party gets into power. In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), I made a point that I have made several times in private meetings about the extent of the debt. I have pursued this issue since a debate on fiscal stability on 7 October 2008, when I began to compare the figures of the Office for National Statistics with the assertions that the Government were making about the true level of debt. I do not need to go through all the debates there have been on this, because I can say what I need to say very briefly.

The national debt, as asserted by the Government, even to date, is set to double to £1.5 trillion by 2014-15. That is £23,000 for every person in the country during the decade of weakest economic growth since the second world war, and the worst decade for the stock market since the early 1930s. That is the asserted level of debt, but the actual level of debt is truly alarming-I would call it frightening. Yesterday, I received a letter from the ONS confirming the actual amount of net debt against the background of what has been asserted. That letter is in the Library, so anyone can check it. It says that the actual net debt is more than £2.65 trillion, if we include all the hidden costs such as public sector pension liabilities, and is not the £1 trillion figure that the Government have, in my opinion, misleadingly presented. What that means for public expenditure and taxation is relevant because there is a balancing act between how much we will need to cut public expenditure and how much taxation is liable to go up. We will only be able to tell the British people the truth. If I might cite Winston Churchill yet again, he said to tell the British people the truth. If we tell the British people the truth, they will follow our lead, but I do not believe that that has been done and the consequences will be very serious for whichever party wins the next general election. I firmly believe that my party will do so, but these figures will not go away.

The Fiscal Responsibility Bill, which I described as a Bill for fiscal irresponsibility, will do absolutely nothing about those figures. I believe that that Bill has been enacted now, and it is an attempt to reduce the deficit by half within the next four or five years. I am afraid that that will not deal with the level of real debt. When one speaks to the credit agencies and the people in the bond market, as I have, and asks what criteria decide what our rating will be in the international financial markets, they do not say that they are considering the accounting principles set by the Government. By the way, it is not just the Government-I have discovered today that these figures, according to the ONS, are agreed in
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conjunction with EUROSTAT. In other words, these are European statistical formulas that have been adopted. I shall come on to that in a moment, because the bottom line is that the real figures are being fudged, not only here and in Greece but in every other country in Europe, if things such as public sector liabilities are not included.

The credit agencies and the bond market are not interested in the conjuring of accountants; they are interested in the bottom line. They will tell anyone that the real bottom line is the actual amount of debt, and Network Rail, the private finance initiative, nuclear decommissioning or public sector pensions cannot simply be magicked away. So when I speak about £3.1 trillion, which is a huge figure, with its consequences for public expenditure and the amount of money that people will have to be taxed, we have to be realistic; otherwise, we would not be telling the British people the truth.

Other problems arise from the speech that I heard from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Already the issue of youth unemployment is a big problem that the Government have not done enough to resolve. Unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds now runs at 19.6 per cent., and we heard only the other day about the problems regarding further education and the lack of confidence among those who know most about that matter. We heard during the debate on access to higher education that the problems for further education are recognised in that sector.

Unemployment among people at large-I am now referring to the International Labour Organisation's definition of unemployment-in October to December 2009 stood at about 2.5 million. That is 7.8 per cent. of all those who are economically active in this country. To that I would add the claimant count for jobseeker's allowance-that is, 1.635 million. In total, therefore, the unemployment figure that we should really be looking at is 4.1 million. We cannot ignore the reality of the figures, which are in the House of Commons Library research paper "Economic Indicators, March 2010". Employment among 16 to 24-year olds has fallen by 7.8 per cent., which is more than for any other age group, so young people are being badly served by this Government. Another factor is that the number of public sector workers has increased by 200,000 in the past two years.

As I am sure that people realise, when they think about it, not one penny of public expenditure does not come from the-hopefully reasonable-tax paid on income from private enterprise. That is the sole source of money for public expenditure. We all want reasonable public services: I am not against that at all, but the figures that I have set out are unchallengeable facts. They come from the ONS and the House of Commons research department. I am certain that the Minister will not attempt to challenge them from the Dispatch Box, but the picture that they paint is tragic.

The Budget does nothing to resolve the problems that the Government face. The problems are so deep that they will not be resolved by the policies produced yesterday. It is tragic, but the Government have failed and that is why, above all else, we have to get rid of them.


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