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27 May 2010 : Column 322

Rachel Reeves rose-

Chris Huhne: Much as I admire the chutzpah with which the shadow Secretary of State approaches this leadership speech, I see no recognition in his remarks of the appalling legacy that he has bequeathed us.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Hugh Bayley): Before the shadow Secretary of State replies, I remind new Members that the procedure is that you do not intervene on an intervention, even if it is a rather long one.

Edward Miliband: So there we have it-the Greek defence. A person may vote Liberal Democrat, but along sails the Greek defence, which means that one does not need to keep one's promises. Promises do not mean anything from the Liberal Democrats if something happens in Greece. The Secretary of State will have to do a lot better than that.

Rachel Reeves: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Greece's debt is 110% of its gross domestic product? That is twice as high a ratio of debt to GDP as that in the UK. That, and not the budget deficit, is the important point with regard to sustainability. The budget deficits of Greece and the UK are comparable, but in terms of sustainability, the issue is the level of debt. As the UK's debt is half the level of Greece's, those comparisons are scaremongering excuses for policies that the Conservatives always wanted to pursue.

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend gives the House and the Secretary of State an economics lecture.

Chris Huhne rose-

Edward Miliband: The Secretary of State is obviously feeling wounded.

Chris Huhne: On a matter of fact, may I point out that while Governments sometimes have to refinance parts of their debt, they have to finance their budget deficit? It is the budget deficit that is scaring the markets, not the levels of overall debt.

Edward Miliband: The truth is, though, that since the Budget of my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor in March, tax revenues have been stronger and the budget deficit is lower than it was at the time of the election. The Greek defence will not do, I am afraid. The uncertainty that the Secretary of State is causing with his willingness to look again at the decisions that I mentioned is a total betrayal of the Liberal Democrats' position at the election.

I think that we can hear the sound of old scores being settled, because the orange book, as represented by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is winning, and the Secretary of State, who, to be fair to him, is at the more progressive end of the Liberal Democrat party-or so I thought-has lost. I say to the Secretary of State in all seriousness that it would be the worst sort of short-termism-something that the Government are supposed to be against-to cut those investments, which are essential for the long-term health of the British economy. If he is serious about the green industrial agenda, as he said he was in his speech, it is his responsibility to defend those investments, and we will judge him on
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that, because those investments are essential to make Britain part of the green industrial revolution. I hope that in the coming weeks he will defend tooth and nail those investments in the green industries of the future.

Albert Owen rose-

Mr Anderson: rose-

Edward Miliband: What a great choice! I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson).

Mr Anderson: Does my right hon. Friend agree that part of the industrial revolution in the north-east is driven and supported by the regional development agency, another thing that will disappear under the coalition Government?

Edward Miliband: I agree with my hon. Friend, and that speaks to the attitude, which I hope the Secretary of State does not share, that the only thing that is needed to make our economy work is for Government to get out of the way. I do not think that that will create the economy of the future.

Albert Owen: I thank my right hon. Friend for the support that he gave my community and my constituency on new nuclear build, with Wylfa being one of the first in line. On planning, do we not have the worst of both worlds, with the scrapping of the Infrastructure Planning Commission on the one hand, and no planning commission or planning statement in place on the other? That uncertainty is costing business-

Chris Huhne indicated dissent.

Albert Owen: It is. Business speaks to me. The Secretary of State might be talking to one company, but he has not talked to the companies that want to invest billions in my constituency.

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend makes his point eloquently. The uncertainty and the scrapping of the IPC are dogma.

Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that industry requires not only certainty of future energy supply but-given the long-term planning and investment needed for new nuclear and related technologies-certainty and conviction on the part of the Government promoting those technologies, rather than the dithering and delay symptomatic of the new Government?

Edward Miliband: I agree with my hon. Friend.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we all accept that we would like a transition towards electric cars instead of petrol cars, it will naturally breed a massive increase in the demand for electricity, which will require many more nuclear power stations? The Government do not seem to see further than their nose on this.

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Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend makes a very important point: the demand for electricity is likely to increase, not decrease-even with measures on energy efficiency.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman delivers an eloquent speech, but would it not have much more credibility if he were to admit that the Labour party had 13 years to give us energy security and did nothing about it?

Edward Miliband: That is not true, because when we look at what we have achieved, in terms of the reduction in carbon emissions in this country and the transition that we have started on new nuclear, which was initially opposed by both parties on the Government Benches, we see that we are making the transition that needed to be made.

Robert Flello: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Edward Miliband: Let me move on to the third test, because I want to allow time for people to come in.

On the third test and the key challenge to ensure that the low carbon transition is fair, we welcome the measures on pay-as-you-save energy. However, there are two matters on which I cannot find anything in the coalition agreement or the Gracious Speech, and I hope that the Secretary of State will indicate at an early opportunity that he wants to move forward on them. The first is the regulation of private and social landlords for energy efficiency. The pay-as-you-save measures are important steps for home owners, but in the past few years we have not seen among private landlords the take-up of basic measures on loft and cavity wall insulation. It should not really be a matter of partisan debate, so I hope that the Secretary of State will move on regulation, because we are talking about some of the poorest people in our society, and they are living in substandard accommodation in terms of energy efficiency.

The second issue, which again I hope is not a matter of big disagreement, is about implementing the measure on compulsory social tariffs which we passed in the Energy Act 2010. In our manifesto we said that we would provide for money off the bills of older, poorer pensioners, and the Secretary of State will want to consider the options that are available to him, but again I hope that at an early opportunity he will make good on those measures.

Robert Flello: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Edward Miliband: Let me make one other point on fairness, and then I shall give way to my hon. Friend.

I also urge the Secretary of State, in his discussions on energy market reform, to look both at investment, which is very important, and at trying to open up the market beyond the big six energy companies, because the truth is that they control 99% of the market and it would be better for competition if we could find ways of opening it up. Ofgem has put forward some ideas, and if we had been back in government we would have wanted to push them forward.

Robert Flello: On my right hon. Friend's last point, I must say that it is not only the big six energy companies that are playing the market for profit, rather than for the consideration of the final user, but the banks and
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traders. I listened very carefully to the Secretary of State's speech but heard no mention of the Warm Front scheme. I have had my concerns about its operational levels, but does my right hon. Friend share my concern that, because of yet another uncertainty, my constituents and those of other hon. Members do not know whether to press ahead and see if they can obtain some funding through Warm Front?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Warm Front has done a lot, and I hope that the Secretary of State, in the discussions that he will no doubt have with his colleague the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will defend that scheme.

We do wish the new Government well in this crucial policy area, both at home and abroad, but I say in all candour to the Secretary of State, as I have said in my speech, that if they carry on as they have started, fudging key differences and papering over the cracks, they will produce a recipe for muddle and confusion, and not the long-term direction that we need. Their renewables policy does not yet add up, because they have Lib-Dem targets with Tory planning policy; their nuclear policy does not add up, because they have three positions; and on industrial policy the risk is that short-term cuts will deny us the long-term economic strength that we need.

In the months ahead, we will hold the Government to account on delivery, because it is in the interests of everyone in this country that we deliver on fairness, on jobs, on energy security and on climate change.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. At this point in the proceedings, I must remind hon. Members that Mr Speaker has imposed a limit of 12 minutes on Back Benchers' speeches.

12.44 pm

Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). I suspect that some of his speech was aimed at a slightly wider audience than even the very large number of colleagues present today, and of course we wish him well with his leadership ambitions. However, I found it rather difficult to tally his enthusiasm for nuclear power with the appalling record of the previous Labour Government, who did not add a single watt of new nuclear generating capacity in 13 long years. We are entitled to a better explanation of why they failed so dismally to do that.

Mr Reed: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Michael Fallon: I want, first, to make a little progress, if I may.

I welcome the Queen's Speech, because it tackles three of the biggest issues that we as a country face. It makes a start on restoring our public finances, on mending our broken society and on modernising our political system, and I shall say a little about each of those issues.

27 May 2010 : Column 326

On public finances, we have already welcomed the strong start that the Treasury made on Monday by making immediate savings in public expenditure. A start simply had to be made. If one spends £700 billion a year but raises only £540 billion a year in taxes, something must be done, and I welcome the fact that this Government, unlike their predecessors, did not sit on their hands but made a start. I welcome also the Chief Secretary's recognition on Monday that that was only a small step: £6.2 billion is well under 1% of total Government expenditure, and more significant savings will have to be made.

I, unlike the right hon. Member for Doncaster North, was pleased by the reference to Greece, because there is a parallel between our deficit situation and the one in Greece. The Greek Government, like our previous Government, were warned successively by the European Commission, the OECD and the International Monetary Fund, but both Governments ignored those warnings and let their deficits continue to accumulate. So there is a warning from Greece: if we do not tackle the fundamental causes of our deficit as rapidly as possible, we are likely to lose the confidence of the markets.

I therefore look forward to the much more difficult task that my right hon. Friends face in the spending review that they will conduct through the summer and autumn. It seems obvious to me, even from Monday's announcements, that the necessary elimination of waste and the search for efficiency savings, although worth while in themselves, will not be enough. If we are to protect the front-line services that we support and the basic budgets of Departments that are not wholly protected, it seems obvious that, first, some established programmes, however cherished, will have to be revised; and that, secondly, we will have to look at annually managed expenditure-the so-called benefit element of public expenditure. It remains the case that many benefit entitlements go relatively high up the income scale, and, if we are to spread the burden of the painful adjustments that are necessary, it does not seem credible to exempt those who are on middle or higher incomes and currently enjoy a wide range of benefits. Importantly, however, the spending review must be conducted fairly and responsibly, spreading the load that is imposed when either expenditure is withdrawn or taxation increased.

The Queen's Speech also makes a start on building a stronger society, and just as important as abstractions, such as the big society, are the practical measures that will extend choice throughout our public services, improve the service that our constituents receive when they use public services and promote more responsibility by users and, perhaps, more awareness of the obligations that come with their use.

In education, I particularly welcome the new drive to attract fresh providers into our system. However, important though that is-and it is important, particularly in some of the inner-city areas of our country, where standards need to be much higher-there is also great advantage to be gained from the additional freedoms that are proposed for all schools, existing and new. Those freedoms will give head teachers and their governors the real power, which they have long wanted, to get away from Government targets and to set their own terms, conditions and priorities. I see nothing wrong in encouraging our schools to be different. Since my days in the Department of Education and Science, I have
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wanted to get away from the homogeneity of council schooling and encourage more schools, which, while following the core curriculum, are different in their outlook, and cater for the different abilities and talents of the children whose parents choose them. That will be a test of the new education legislation.

While I am on the subject of the new academies Bill, perhaps I could put in a plea, notwithstanding my earlier remarks about public expenditure, for the Government to follow through fully the commitment to the new Knole academy in Sevenoaks. The commitment was signed in January and my constituents will expect that to be followed through.

In west Kent, we have a particular problem, to which I would like to draw to my right hon. Friends' attention-the pressure on grammar school places. We have a grammar school system in Kent, and it has always been made clear that the demand for more places needs to be addressed. There is not only an increasing birth rate and more demand for grammar school places, but some 300 pupils now come across our border from East Sussex, Bromley and Bexley and take places in our grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. That issue needs to be tackled.

I want to consider the measures in the Queen's Speech to reform our politics. I understand the need for a coalition agreement and the compromises that bind it. I must say that when I was campaigning for re-election in Sevenoaks, nobody asked me for a fixed-term Parliament or came to the door and said that we needed the alternative vote plus system. Those issues were not raised with me, but I found that people were crying out for a more proper and fuller connection with their political institutions. I found, as I am sure that my hon. Friends did, a frightening gap between people with problems and the layers of local, country and national politicians who were supposed to deal with them.

Nowhere is that better illustrated than in the St Mary's ward of Swanley in my constituency, where in February last year the British National party won what had hitherto been the safest Labour seat in Swanley and secured its first council seat on Sevenoaks district council. St Mary's was not just the safest Labour ward in my constituency, but the poorest. It is striking that that ward, which I visit frequently, despite all the efforts of those who work in it-community workers, schools, including Amanda McGarrigle and her team at St Mary's primary school, and local councillors-as well as the efforts of Government, has not shared in the increased prosperity and job prospects that the rest of the county enjoyed under the previous two or three Governments. We need to reflect more deeply on the reason for that.

There was a fashionable debate in our party a few years ago about whether Winston Churchill or Polly Toynbee was the better marker to follow. Churchill famously said that a rising tide lifts all boats, whereas I think Ms Toynbee argued for her vision of a caravan proceeding across the desert at the pace of its slowest members. Neither approach has worked in some of our poorest wards in the past 10, 20 or 30 years. If I concede that the benefits of markets alone have not trickled down sufficiently to some of the very poor areas of our country, I hope that the Labour party will concede that a whole raft of Government action, ministerial targets and misdirected public expenditure has not succeeded either.

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