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Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab):
It falls to me, a girl from Biddulph in Staffordshire, to pay tribute to the public service that the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) has shown over his 40 years here. From reading through Hansard for the three previous days, it is clear to me that as well as having debates about the Budget itself, we have had valedictory contributions. Many Members are leaving and want to ensure that this place remains one in which what actually matters to our constituents is discussed and what we do really counts and makes a difference.
That was the case with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) when he made £650 million available in a previous Budget. That meant that schools in Stoke-on-Trent that had not had any proper accommodation, never mind paint to improve it, had some money to rebuild. I refer particularly to Holden Lane high school. It became the first refurbished school in Stoke-on-Trent, which made a huge difference.
I am pleased that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is in his place. It might come as no surprise to him that there is really only one reason for my being here for this debate, which will become clear shortly. It is important that he is here to listen to what Members of all parties have to say. I accept his apology and am very pleased that he is here now.
I turn to what is in the Budget in general, and I have to say that it has a lot to commend it. Of course we are in the run-up to the general election, so it is different from Budgets in previous years, but as we try to come through the recession, the most important thing is that we do nothing to destabilise the recovery. The worst thing that could possibly happen would be to undermine the recovery that the Chancellor has embarked upon. I want to ensure that the House recognises what a difference the detail and small print of the Budget will make. I am thinking particularly about support for business growth and the 20,000 extra undergraduate places, which I know will make a difference. Education, education, education is the way out of the poverty and lack of hope that so many of our constituents find themselves in. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire will know, as I do, the importance of the work of our Staffordshire institutions, not least Staffordshire university, of which I am an honorary doctor.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) will refer to the green investment bank and the provision in the Budget for green environmental technologies, as well as the importance of targeted support for households and individuals. Mention is also made in the Budget of the importance of regional government and regional Ministers, and it sets out the hope that if at all possible, Government offices, regional development agencies and parts of the Homes and Communities Agency will be relocated. To link in with the theme that is coming from the Department for Communities and Local Government, it sets out how we can have a Total Place response to ensuring that Government Departments work in a vertical way alongside local authorities so that their policies make a difference. There is enough in the Budget to help with that.
It will come as no surprise to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, if not to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I say that there is really only one overriding reason why I should wish to speak in this afternoon's debate. It is simply to make the case for the Government relocating Departments to the city of Stoke-on-Trent and to the Potteries, where-I have to mention this-we shall celebrate on 1 April the centenary of the federation of the six pottery towns of Stoke-on-Trent: Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Fenton, Stoke and Longton. What subsequently became a city was formed simply because of the pottery manufacturers wanting a brand name so that they could trade their ceramics and tableware on the global stage. That was why the city of Stoke-on-Trent came about.
It is no surprise that because there has been so much outsourcing, our traditional manufacturing industry-in not just ceramics, but all the associated manufacturing that goes with that-has suffered structural decline. That is not to say that some of our existing manufacturing businesses are not doing very well, and I am not talking down Stoke-on-Trent because we have huge opportunities, but structural challenges that existed before the recession remain. The important thing is to recognise what the Government and Parliament can do. That is why this Budget debate is so important to us.
The recent reports from the Centre for Cities show that we have high numbers of jobseekers and that we have lost a large number of private sector jobs. For that reason, it is critical that the Government intend to build on the 2004 Michael Lyons report. They need to ensure that in addition to the 20,000 jobs that have already been allocated away from London and the south-east to other strategic areas around the country, they drive the agenda to ensure that the Ian R. Smith report that has come about as a result of the Budget-"Relocation: transforming where and how government works"-applies to Stoke-on-Trent. That is critical. That could provide the extra jobs that our city, in its centenary year of federation, actually needs.
I want the Chief Secretary, when he comes to reply, to refer not only to the fact that I have come along to the Chamber tonight on the fourth day of the Budget debate to raise this matter, but to tell the House that my colleagues and I have been raising it consistently since the Lyons report came out. Perhaps we have not put a sound enough business case for Stoke-on-Trent, but we have had the intent and the objectives-in that I include the chamber of commerce and the North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership.
We have been thwarted by how the Office of Government Commerce has looked at relocation. It says, "Oh, we'll leave it to the heads of the civil service and let them decide which areas, which parts of the country and which regions will be best suited for those newly created jobs." I want that to change. I have read the detail of the Smith report, which we are debating as part of the fourth day of the Budget debate. It clearly states that the Government should show leadership and that there should be a way for Regional Ministers to come together. I want a Regional Minister who really makes the case for Stoke-on-Trent's needs-I know that our current Regional Minister does that.
The proposals in the report also set out a new way of government and there is talk of seeing government in a new, integrated way. Perhaps given our desire for Parliament to connect better with the people whom we represent, we should propose to relocate Parliament to somewhere in the centre of the country-somewhere that has the most fantastic links, which this Government have provided along the west coast main line, so that we would have good access.
"Over the past few years, we have moved something like 24,000 jobs out of London and the south-east. Just before the pre-Budget report, we said that we would seek to move another 13,000 out over the next few years. I would be very happy to sit down with my hon. Friend and other colleagues from Stoke-on-Trent to talk
about how we can maximise Stoke-on-Trent's chances of getting a big share of those new jobs."-[ Official Report, 15 December 2009; Vol. 502, c. 800.]
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): I am following my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) in that this will be my last speech in the House of Commons. Unlike him, I cannot claim a 40-year record-I have had a mere 23 years in this place-but I always imagined that when I was making my last speech and about to depart, I would be sad. Instead, I find that my uppermost sentiment is one of profound relief. I sincerely hope that future generations of Members of this House will be able to serve in an atmosphere free of the welter of public vituperation and vilification that this Parliament has been confronted with, and that there will once again be a recognition on the part of the public that the overwhelming majority of people who come here-on both sides of the House and in all parties-do so with some degree, and sometimes quite a lot, of sacrifice, in terms of either finance or family. My hope for the future is that some calmness and some respect will again prevail.
Whereas my hon. Friend came here with a sense of history, I came here with a sense of the future. My maiden speech was on Trident. Of course, at that time, I was very much in favour of keeping Trident, and those on these Opposition Benches, which were then occupied by the Labour party, were very much opposed to that. I am delighted that they have seen the error of their ways, and that they now in fact see the merits of Trident. That gives me great hope. They also now see the merits of privatisation, so I am very hopeful that at some stage in the future, they will see sense on a great many other things as well, and that a far more sensible and down-to-earth approach will prevail among them.
However, my main hope was that we would have a smaller state and a larger individual. My other main hopes, to which I shall address the main body of my remarks-I took this for granted at the time, but now I do not-were that we would have a stable society, in which the family was the bedrock, respected and supported by Governments of whatever party, and that citizens could feel safe and live decently, regardless of the income that they had at their disposal, and regardless of where they were obliged to live in this country. I want to direct the rest of my remarks in this Budget debate to measures that I feel are still desperately needed, and that would go some way towards securing those objectives.
I turn first of all to the family. If in our time there has been an assault on any great institution, it has been not on the House of Commons, but on the family. I am talking about the record levels of family break-up and the record numbers of young children who are growing up in houses where the parents have split, who are expected to split their time, emotions and whereabouts between those parents. But for all the many families like that, there are plenty of other parents who stay together in a committed and subsisting marriage, and who wish to bring their children up in a stable environment. I therefore wish to draw particular attention to the plight-and it is a plight-of the non-working mother.
When a family decides that upon the birth of the first child, the mother-it may sometimes be the father, but statistically it is usually the mother-will stay at home to take on the full-time duty of bringing up that child, they are faced with moving almost overnight, from being two people living on two incomes, to being three people living on one income. Where that family is well off, that is not such a big issue, but for the majority of families that model, which many would like to follow, is now but a distant aspiration. There are many reasons for that, and it has not been helped by the prevailing social view that somehow there is something intrinsically second class about the woman who opts voluntarily to stay at home and bring up her children.
While I have been in this place, I am pleased to say that I have lost three secretaries to full-time motherhood-I am not pleased that I lost them, but pleased for the reason that I lost them. The most recent said to me that she spends all her time trying to justify to her friends and contemporaries why she had chosen not to come back to work when the child was born.
The social attitudes do not help, but there are also massive financial considerations. As a result of property prices and the huge mortgages that are necessary, it is simply impossible in many families for one of the parents to say that they will stop earning. Therefore, every shred of help that we can give to such families should be given by the Government of the day. It is especially iniquitous that there should be such a difference between the support given to a family where the mother has decided on full-time motherhood-which is the highest calling, because those mothers are bringing up the citizens of tomorrow-and to families where the parents have decided to carry on working. This example is given by Peter Saunders, professor of sociology, who points out that
"if both parents go out to work and put their children into childcare, the government gives them each a £6,035 tax-free allowance, as well as heavily subsidising their child care costs. But if they prefer to look after their children themselves, sacrificing one income and foregoing all the child care subsidies, the government penalises them by making the stay-at-home parent forfeit her (or his) right to a tax-free income."
We not only fail to support the non-working wife, but we positively pour support on those people who are existing on two incomes rather than one. Much of that inequality stems from the decline in the respect for marriage that we used to take for granted in our society. That is one of the groups of people about whom I wished to talk about today-the non-working mother. I see nothing in this Budget to help the non-working mother, but I see much in some of the Conservative proposals that might help the non-working mother if they are fully implemented. In any case, the Government are wrong to have ignored this problem, and in the wind-up I would like to hear what the Government will do-in the limited time available to them-to give some support to the non-working, stay-at-home, full-time mother.
The other group are those about whom I have spoken in this House before, and whom I have always called the forgotten decents. These are the law-abiding decent citizens, often but not always families-perhaps pensioners, a couple whose family has grown up and gone or single
persons-who, because of a lack of resources, cannot escape from the environment in which they are trapped. I refer particularly, but not exclusively, to those big inner-city council estates where people have no aspiration but living a normal, unmolested life. That does not seem to be a ridiculous aspiration for a British citizen. But those people often do not dare even to leave their houses or flats after dark-not only after 8 or 9 pm, but even 6 or 7 pm-because they would be subjected to intimidation, robbery and thuggery. They live with that prevailing fear.
Mothers who live on such estates have told me, and continue to tell me, as nothing much appears to have changed, that before they let their children out to play-which should be a normal activity-they have to check the surrounding area for needles. It is in those areas where the law-abiding live behind bars, because they fortify their homes like Fort Knox. There is wanton vandalism on those big estates and I vividly remember talking to one person who was disabled and had therefore no choice but to live on the ground floor. He could not live any higher: he had to occupy the ground floor. He had a pathetic, small patch in front of his flat where he had put pot plants to try to make a pleasant area in which to sit out in his wheelchair. Is that such a big aspiration? But his garden was regularly vandalised and finally every last plant was destroyed when some yob threw acid all over them.
Are those areas policed? Is there a regular police presence on which those ordinary and modest British citizens can call? The answer is no. The regular plaint goes up, "We rarely"-they do not say never, because that would be an exaggeration-"see a policeman." There is no visible deterrent walking around these streets in the form of someone who could be called on by those who feel afraid. Money spent on policing those areas or bringing any other sort of hope to those areas would be money well spent. I do not see much encouragement for those people-the forgotten decents-in this Budget. I hope that I am wrong. I hope that in the wind-up, the Minister will be able to point to measures that have been taken, but I have deliberately chosen in this, my last speech, just two groups of ordinary, decent people-full-time mothers who just want to be able to afford to bring their kids up and not feel compelled to go out to work, and those who live in terrible areas and cannot get out of them, where every agency shrugs and they are abandoned by those whose job it is to look after them. Ultimately, that job is the Government's.
Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab):
Subject to the views of the electorate of Holborn and St. Pancras, it is not my intention not to be here after the general election, but I wish to pay tribute to the two veteran Members whom we have just heard. However, I will not attempt to follow them because I welcome the Budget statement and the Government's and the Chancellor's refusal to listen to the siren voices who demand cuts before the recovery from the recession is well under way. My view is that we will need to be fairly careful about cuts in public spending and public investment even when the recovery is well under way. The definition of a recession, in many ways, is that the economy is working below its maximum, and the best way to deal with
deficits, debts and practically every imaginable problem is to get that economy back to working at its maximum as soon as possible. Slashing investment stifles growth; it does not encourage it.
I was not surprised-but it was saddening-to hear the shadow Business Secretary harking back to the days of Mrs. Thatcher, on the basis that, if it is not hurting, it is not working. He gave the impression that her policies of slashing public services promoted economic growth, but nothing could be further from the truth. Average annual economic growth under Mrs. Thatcher was lower than the average under the preceding Wilson and Callaghan Governments. Things went down, not up, as a result of those policies. We also had massive inflation during that time. The lowest inflation under Mrs. Thatcher in a year was 3.4 per cent., and it averaged 7 per cent. It was all kept afloat with takings from the North sea and privatisation, and that money was squandered: it was not invested in industry-there was not a British sovereign investment fund-research or training. However, some of the decisions that the Chancellor has made in the Budget mean that there will be investment in industry, research and even more in training.
We must remember that the biggest beneficiaries of the economic policies of the Thatcher Government were the finance industry and the speculators-the speculators who have been ruining the world economy for donkey's years now, whipping up and down the world price of oil and gas. There can be no rational justification for the price of a barrel of oil falling from $140 to $80 in the space of a fortnight-that is speculation and nothing else. There was also speculation in the price of wheat and rice. When I was in Bangladesh, I asked a rice farmer whether the price he was paid for his rice had quadrupled in the previous year, but he had not seen a penny of that. Price changes took place partly on the American markets. There are also the speculators in currencies.
The changes and relaxations introduced under Mrs. Thatcher contributed to-I do not say that they brought it about-the banking crisis, and the banking crisis has undoubtedly caused most of the deficit, directly as a result of the taxpayer having to provide bail-out funds to some of the banks that were going broke and to give guarantees to others to prevent them from going broke. The banking crisis has indirectly caused the recession, and the recession has caused the fall in output and tax take and led to more benefits being paid out. We do not need to stop investing; we need more investment to counter the downturn and to get back to maximising output. When someone loses their job, we all lose out: we lose the goods or services that they were producing, the tax that they would have paid had they been employed and then there are the benefits that we have to pay out to keep them and their families going. As I understand it, it averages at least £12,000 a year to keep someone out of work-so keeping people out of work adds to the deficit.
The Government's measures have been working. The jobless total is fewer than the wiseacres were predicting; the number of houses repossessed is lower than the level predicted by the wiseacres in the City; and there has been an element of recovery. It has to be said that Britain has led the way. I know it is a commonplace to mock the Prime Minister, but I put more faith in the words of Paul Krugman, who won the Nobel prize for
economics for his study of recessions and knows what he is talking about. In response to what the Prime Minister did in the year running up to the G20 summit in London, Krugman said that the Prime Minister had acted with "stunning speed", and had
"defined the character of the worldwide rescue effort, with other wealthy nations playing catch-up",
"combination of clarity and decisiveness"
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