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I have a Methodist background. My mother is a Methodist lay preacher, and she would tell the Sunday school, which I attended, about the seven fat years and the seven lean years. Those hon. Members who know the Old Testament will remember that Joseph had a dream in which he dreamt of seven fat cows and then the seven lean cows. [ Interruption. ] This is not very complicated; it is quite simple actually, so please bear with me. I know that Labour Members have concentration problems sometimes. I am sorry-it was a long time ago. The pharaoh had the dream and he spoke to Joseph. [ Interruption. ] This is very important and interesting. He asked, "What does this mean?" and Joseph said very simply, "You will have seven fat years and seven lean years." The whole point is that we are meant to save money in the fat years, so that we can spend it in the lean years. The Labour Government comprehensively failed to do that. They thought that the fat years would run indefinitely. They thought that they had abolished boom and bust.
The point of telling that simple story is to show comprehensively the reason for the cuts mentioned by the hon. Gentleman-I forget his constituency. [Hon. Members: "Sedgefield."] I apologise; I was perhaps confusing him with another Member for Sedgefield. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) referred to them as Tory cuts, but the simple story of Labour's failure to rein in Government spending in the boom is why we must make these cuts. They are not coming out of the blue or from savageness.
Phil Wilson: I was pointing out that, because of Government intervention, we were creating jobs, especially in the north-east of England, through the regional development agencies. We were not creating poverty; we were creating growth and prosperity. We took action when we were in government before the last election, and 500,000 fewer people are out of work than if we had not done so.
Matthew Hancock: Is my hon. Friend aware that Great Britain went into the recession with the largest budget deficit in the developed world and that that was nothing to do with the banking crisis but was solely due to the management of the economy by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown)?
Kwasi Kwarteng: I am fully aware of those facts. The figures show that the ratio of our debt to GDP is 12%. That is higher than any other country in the west. [ Interruption. ] I am sorry; I stand corrected. The deficit-to-GDP ratio is the highest of any other country in western Europe and, indeed, in the western developed world.
Rachel Reeves: I am sorry to correct the hon. Gentleman again. He is right to correct himself-the deficit, not the debt, ratio is 12%-but is he aware that the deficit figure in Greece stands at 14%? Greece is, I believe, in the western world. Is he also aware that we went into the crisis with the second lowest debt-to-GDP ratio in the G7?
Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister, openly boasted of abolishing boom and bust. That was the central claim that he made. He predicated his entire policy on that premise. The premise was wrong. As we all know, and as hon. Members have commented, we went into a recession and we were faced with a huge deficit. That was a huge bust, which the former Prime Minister, in his wisdom, failed to see. That is why we were saddled with the deficit, and why we have had to make some of the tough adjustments to which Opposition Members have alluded.
That context is important. I know that there will be difficult times. I know that up and down the country Opposition Members will bemoan and complain about Tory cuts, but the context demonstrates why the adjustments have had to be made. They were forced upon us by the international environment. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) mentioned that investors would not buy British Government debt. As a consequence, we have to rein in our spending. That is common sense. It is wrong for Opposition Members to say that we are trying to strangle the baby in its cot and that we are savage and uncaring. It is a matter of practical policy. Without that, we have a bleak future.
Mr Anderson: The hon. Gentleman spoke about fairy tales and Bible stories. Some of us lived the reality. Some of us in this country were starved for 18 years, while others became fat cats. We know that his party is taking us back there.
To finish my contribution, I want to talk about the private sector and the public sector. Someone described trying to grow an economy by focusing on the public sector as a man sitting in a bucket trying to lift himself up by pulling the handle. It does not work. The only way we can have a viable public sector is if we can have revenues coming in from a buoyant private sector. As my hon. Friends have reiterated time and again, it is only by having a prosperous private sector that we can grow our way out of the recession. The message about a strong private sector is clear. It wants less regulation, less red tape and bureaucracy and a clear tax system, and it generally supports the coalition Government and the Government programme. For these clear and simple reasons, I support the Government amendment.
Before I get to that, however, may I congratulate everyone who made their maiden speech today? They spoke with passion, commitment and humour, and all bring something special to this very special place. I want to mention in particular the contribution of my new
hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop), who spoke superbly about his predecessor, Ashok Kumar, who was both a colleague and a friend to those of us who were elected before 2010.
I congratulate the Government and, in particular, the Prime Minister. They got the decision on the £21 million for Nissan absolutely right, confirming the investment made by the Labour Government. It offers welcome reassurance to the highly skilled work force, some of whom live in my constituency, to the companies in the supply chain, and to the region as a whole. If the Government insist on revisiting all the spending commitments that were made in the preceding months before the election, I hope that when they do so, they will follow the model that they have developed in looking at the Nissan grant. It is important that they get on with it, because if they do not, they risk sapping the confidence of business in the region.
I want to make it absolutely clear, as did the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), that we accept the need for deficit reduction, but we also accept that there needs to be a strategy for growth alongside it.
Mr Campbell: I have news for the hon. Gentleman: he is sitting on the Government Benches. It is up to the Government to bring their proposals to this House, and it is for this House to make judgments on them. As my right hon. Friend made clear-
As my right hon. Friend made clear, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills identified £900 million-worth of cuts before the election. Before the election, I was in the Home Office, where we had identified £500 million-worth of savings. It is simply wrong to say that the previous Government did not identify savings, but if the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) wants to go beyond that programme, it is up to his party and his Government to bring forward those proposals.
Matthew Hancock: The hon. Gentleman talks about cuts that were identified by Labour. We all know that the Labour figures implied £50 billion of spending cuts; for all that we have heard about demanding more money, that is the fact of the matter. He mentions £500 million as an aggregate figure, but can he give us, say, five specific examples of cuts at the Home Office, where he was a Minister, that would have happened under a Labour Government had they been re-elected?
Mr Campbell: I would first mention the battle for savings that every police force has to deliver while protecting front-line services. However, I do not necessarily want to talk about that-I want to talk about the money that was in the budgets under the previous Government for a very good reason.
This debate is not only about BIS but about the whole of Government. I hope that the Minister will have a word with colleagues in other Departments, for the sake of construction workers in my constituency. I hope that we can have a decision on Building Schools for the Future in north Tyneside. Our children deserve the best learning environment, but our construction workers deserve jobs, too. When the last new school in my constituency-Monkseaton high school-was built, more than half the construction jobs went to local people. When the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, went to the school, he praised the building. So let us have some commitment from the Government that gives certainty and ensures that Monkseaton high school was not literally the last new school to be built in my constituency.
There was also money in the regional transport budget, but that budget has been frozen. That has caused me concern, but, more importantly, it has caused concern for local businesses and their representatives. There was £30 million in the budget to improve the A19-A1058 Silverlink roundabout. A driver who turns left at that roundabout goes to the new green technology park on the north bank of the Tyne. If they go straight over, they go to the Cobalt business park-the biggest private business park in the country, which is there because of co-operation between the public and the private sectors in bringing those jobs to the area. If we do not get those improvements, then people who go through the new Tyne tunnel-delivered by the previous Labour Government-will end up in gridlock. A whole host of then shadow Ministers came to look at those roads and made promises to my constituents about what they would do. Well, they are in government now, so they had better start delivering on those promises. If the road network in the north-east is not upgraded, if we are excluded from the rapid rail link, and if the new runway at Heathrow does not take place, squeezing out the regional air links, why would an investor who comes to Great Britain think about putting their money into the north-east given that we do not have a transport network for the future to create future jobs?
I want to concentrate on the regional development agency, which has been mentioned. Before the recession, the north-east had the fastest-growing economy of any region outside London. That did not happen despite Government action, it happened with it, and One NorthEast was part of that story.
One NorthEast has been a leading player in the New and Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth and along the north bank of the Tyne, in low-carbon vehicles at Nissan on Wearside, and in the Printable Electronics Technology Centre in County Durham. Every one of those developments had at their heart a level of operation between private investors and the public sector. There may be support for small businesses for local authorities to pick up, but I am concerned that without such strategic action, the big national decisions will go elsewhere. My fear is that that will be bad news for the north-east.
If the Government are getting rid of RDAs in England, as has been suggested, have they spoken to the devolved Administrations in Wales and Scotland about them
getting rid of their RDAs? One of the first issues that I took up in 1997 was the case of LG Electronics. That company went to Wales because we in the north-east did not have the money, but the Welsh Development Agency did. LG did not stay there, but Wales pinched the jobs.
Cuts in the RDA budget are already affecting jobs in my constituency: the Seafood Training Centre looks as if it will close its doors. Again, a troop of Conservative spokespersons went to that training agency and said how important it was, but now it is closing its doors, which is another bitter blow for the local fishing industry. That is why the Government need to be much clearer than they have been today about their plans for RDAs.
"changes depend very much on the reaction of local business and local authorities."-[ Official Report, 3 June 2010; Vol. 510, c. 556.]
I can tell him that One NorthEast has the support of local authorities, five universities, the Northern Business Forum, the CBI, the chamber of commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Engineers Employers Federation, so let us see him get on and back it.
Of course, we know why there is dither: there is disagreement at the heart of the coalition. The Communities and Local Government Secretary-the man with the money-wants the money to go to local enterprise partnerships, but the Business Secretary, who is in charge of the sponsoring Department, favours regional economic enterprise partnerships, rather like RDAs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) said, this afternoon we have simply heard confirmation of uncertainty. That adds to confusion, and it is not good for business.
The Government need to accept, as the Opposition accept, that although deficit reduction is important, so too is economic growth. If we do not have the latter, we cannot have a better-balanced economy, including in respect of the regions and London. The north-east remains hopeful, but not expectant, because the Prime Minister said in that interview with Jeremy Paxman that of all the English regions, the north-east can expect to bear the brunt of the cuts. The problem and the danger is that in taking too much of an orthodox approach, involving cuts but very little else, we risk mirroring the policies of the last peacetime coalition Government, who turned a recession into a depression. They were not balanced in their approach to the regions, and the effects were not even, because the depression hit regions such as the north-east hardest. We must not, and we will not, allow that to happen again.
Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con):
It is a pleasure to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to see you in the Chair. I am glad to see that you have adopted the traditional attire of the Deputy Speaker. It has been very enjoyable this afternoon to listen to the maiden speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) and the hon. Members for Wansbeck (Ian
Lavery), for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher), for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) and for North West Durham (Pat Glass)-the latter was a particularly charming speech. I agreed especially with the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell, and less so with all of the others.
I wanted to speak in this debate on business because I grew up in a small family business. In a sense, that is what brought me into politics. It taught me the values of enterprise and responsibility as I watched that small business grow. It was my first job and it has informed the way in which I think about the world and how it operates. I still remember the occasion when I first realised the impact of Government regulation on small businesses and the amount of time that that could take up to no particularly beneficial effect. The Health and Safety Executive visited my family business-an office-based computer software business-and took two days of senior management time and its own staff's time to search for something that breached the health and safety code. I am sure that many small business people across the country will recognise that scenario. After two days, all that they had found was a bottle of bleach in the cupboard under the sink in the small office kitchen and no sign saying that it was there. This was put into the report and I remember laminating the sign that still hangs above the sink and says, "There is bleach in the cupboard. Please do not drink it." That gave the company a clean bill of health from the HSE. What a waste of resources, of management time and of the HSE staff time.
I was therefore delighted to hear that the Government will review health and safety laws. We all recognise the importance of health and safety-indeed, it was a Conservative Government who introduced the Factory Acts-but the over-bearing, centralised, top-down, intrusive, suspicious, expansive and expensive health and safety system that has grown up in the past few years needs to be reviewed.
I have given just one example of something that has happened frequently over the past 13 years. The end result has been the economic crisis that we are now in and that members of both parties on this side of the House are trying to face up to and solve for the future good of our country. I have been astonished that in this debate Opposition Members have joined in a leftward march away from the centre of political debate, ignoring entirely the depth of the crisis that we face. Even the former Minister, the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell) could not specify a single reduction in spending in his Department, despite saying that he had identified £500 million of cuts.
Mr Campbell: It is not for us to tell police forces where they should make cuts. It is for us to set the police budget, but police forces are operationally independent, and it is for police authorities to make those decisions. The Government do not tell them how to do that.
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